Solving the Human Predicament by Gerald Addy

Entrenched human behavior tendencies have blocked action toward a sustainable future. 

Despite over 50 years of effort by scientists and environmentalists, the future of the human endeavor can no longer be taken for granted.  This is due primarily to our nature.  We have failed to realize our own behavior patterns are the root cause of our predicament and have mistakenly believed that mountains of evidence would make the difference.  For decades scientists have produced evidence describing the serious environmental threats we face.  Their work has failed to ignite a significant public response because our message has not been delivered in a manner that addresses the drivers of human behavior.

We now understand humans are confronted with subconscious behavior tendencies that served us well at an earlier period, but still remain in our incomplete evolutionary development.  At our present stage of intellectual development, lingering malignant social constructs, especially capitalism and economic growth, impede our ability to move forward on environmental issues.

Humans have the most highly developed brain of all living species.  The cognitive part of the brain is responsible for our remarkable progress in technology and science.  By contrast, when human relationships induce conflict or stress, the limbic and reptilian parts of the brain dominate, overriding rational cognitive thought processes.  The innate survival instincts so essential in the past still tend to overwhelm our unique reasoning capacity.  Emotional factors such as fear and anger hamper rational thinking.  We overestimate the human intellectual capacity when the cognitive process is undermined by our regression to subconscious influences.

Human behavior is strongly influenced by well-established norms.  Ideas extending beyond broadly accepted patterns are frequently rejected because they do not conform to preconceived beliefs that, once established, are extremely difficult to dislodge.  Once locked in place, they are obstacles to change.  A striking example of this aspect of human behavior is the never-ending debate on gun control in the United States.  Any time the topic on the availability of guns occurs, the National Rifle Association (NRA) vehemently rejects any type of constraint on gun ownership, claiming “the right to bear arms” as an unalienable right that cannot be taken away.  The right to bear arms became part of the United States constitution in 1791 and remains there to this day despite the evolution from muskets to AK-47s and despite abundant evidence that gun ownership fails to enhance security and creates an added public hazard.

Human behavior contains a strong element of competitiveness, a natural occurrence in past times when survival was a daily struggle.  Humans operated in a context where obtaining food and shelter were the key factors of living.  Hardships bred a short-term view of life with little regard for the future.  In today’s society the same characteristics can be seen in our seemingly insatiable consumption of resources and in our tendency to discount the future.  These predispositions are displayed by our destructive treatment of the natural world, all in the name of unsustainable economic growth.  We are caught in the trap of immediate self-gratification at the expense of our own life-support system.

The unique reasoning ability of humans has brought many benefits, but has also provided us with a problem with which we must cope.  We are equipped with certain abstract knowledge unlikely to be possessed by most other animal species.  Humans have a sense of self-awareness and are aware of their own mortality.  We are constantly reminded by daily events around us that we are not immutable.  By necessity, we have learned to deal with this knowledge by creating a number of defensive structures.  We have subconsciously learned to deny reality.  The denial may take the form of refuting or ignoring painful information that helps us avoid facing the issue.  Denial often employs rationalization as an escape mechanism by finding reasons to discredit the information.  Humans are capable of denial most frequently when the issue in question has a controversial aspect, but also occurs even when the information is widely accepted.  The melting of the Arctic sea ice is a powerful example.  It is recognized there is an urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Despite this, oil companies and some governments are actively laying claim to areas believed to contain oil or gas reserves.  The risk of potential global warming disaster is denied.  Greed and vested interests prevail.

If we expect to move forward on environmental issues we will need to frame our message in a way that reaches the real drivers of human behavior and removes the obstacles blocking change.  Predicting disaster is not a driver because creating fear produces denial and paralysis.  Providing more scientific evidence is helpful, but is not a driver because it has been tested for decades and found to be ineffective.  At present a plan does not exist, but we now have an understanding of the elements influencing human behavior that could be utilized in developing a blueprint for action.  These elements would focus on the many positive attributes of human nature such as our proven ability to co-operate, our innate desire to protect our children, and our empathy for other creatures that share the Earth with us.

We have the intellectual capacity to create a plan using these and other human qualities.  It is our moral responsibility to do so.  The question is: “Are we brave enough to do it?”

Gerald Addy is a retired elementary school principal from North Vancouver with thirty-six years of service in education and currently serves as one of the directors of the Qualicum Institute.

Response from Graeme Bowman

I’m intrigued that in this essay there is no mention of the ‘p’ word. Maybe this is because, if you are raised within a patriarchal system, (as I’d suggest most of us have been) patriarchy is invisible to you, in the same way that male privilege can be invisible to men, and white privilege can be invisible to white people.

Before anyone here thinks I’m having an unfair go at men, (I’m one myself) let me assure you it’s not men in general who are at fault, it’s mainly what are called “men behaving badly”, where badly means having a damaging effect on people and planet in the areas of social, economic and environmental sustainability. Let me also add that patriarchy has no gender; while it arose from the rules of men, it is now an overarching set of systems in which many women willingly participate as well. Such systems can reward women well – if they are prepared to play the game – which explains why some women leaders appear more ruthless than their male counterparts; they had to adopt that style to get noticed and be accepted.

Gerald rightly says above, “Fixed human behavior tendencies have blocked action toward a sustainable future”.  However, the most obstructionist of these tendencies don’t reflect some ‘fixed genetic’ or universal core of humanity; they stem from a specific, archaic worldview and primitive level of consciousness; an aberrant, unbalanced way of functioning that is now totally at odds with our current reality. Good news is, as it’s not genetic, it’s not beyond our control to do something about it.

If you dig and think deeply enough, you can’t help but conclude that the root cause of global problems is a range of toxic beliefs and behaviors associated with the patriarchal systems that underpin the world’s dominant economies, business entities, governments, societies, cultures and religions. If you’d ever wondered if there was some common link between the slaughtering of indigenous people so miners could access their land … systemic sexual abuse within religious institutions … and the GFC notion of ‘too big too fail’, you will find that common link embedded within the ideals of patriarchy, which has – and this is the worst bit – progressively become institutionalized, and now globalized, to the point where no single person or entity controls it.

The failure to adequately address global problems reflects, within many men in positions of immense power, the patriarchal suppression of nurturing human values such as empathy, humility and collaboration, coupled with the cultivation of beliefs and behaviors around competition, adversarial thinking, domination, entitlement, greed, command and control, divide and conquer, and win-at-all-costs.

The suppression of the nurturing values also reinforces an anthropocentric – and within that, a male-centric – ‘operating system’ across humankind. Although these ‘men behaving badly’ may be genuinely smart and sophisticated in lots of ways, when it comes to a mental framework suited to continued human existence, they are running on empty. And as we are seeing, it’s terribly dangerous when combined with a lizard brain and advanced technology that can exponentially amplify the resulting dysfunctionality.

Interestingly, Carol Gilligan’s research demonstrated that, when confronted with a moral dilemma, men generally operate out of an ethic of justice, whereas women tend to operate out of an ethic of care. This means men will often sacrifice a relationship in order to comply with the rules, while women are more likely to bend the rules to preserve the relationship.

As a way to run a planet, the ethic of justice favored by men really falls down when what is legal differs markedly from what is moral or ethical. That’s when we have a situation that is on a collision course with the needs of both humanity and planet. In its most extreme form, the psychologically immature patriarchal mind sees itself as superior to, and dominant over all else, and therefore entitled to take whatever it wants. We desperately need an ethic of care, one that views sustainability as a continuum from cellular to planetary.

Solving aspects of major problems without trying to loosen the grip of patriarchy is like upgrading your prison cell – you’re a bit more comfortable, but you’re still trapped and controlled by others. Ignoring the root cause of a problem means it will manifest itself in the same or a different way in the future. You can give cleaner water or better shoes to slaves, generation after generation, but they are still slaves. If you don’t tackle their slavery, what have you actually achieved?

Across all of humanity, the most widespread and discriminatory manifestation of patriarchy is the suppression and exploitation of women and girls. Because of this suppression, I believe Earth’s greatest source of renewable energy is the untapped potential of a billion mothers, daughters, sisters and grandmothers. If humanity is able to turn this spaceship around, it will have more to do with a feminine ethic of care emanating from countless women, than it will from the mediaeval bleating about “the right to bear arms”.

This has lead me to conclude that a critical prerequisite for reducing the damaging aspects of patriarchy on both people and planet is to strengthen the support of women who are currently disengaged from the efforts to improve the state of our world. Which is why my wife and I are establishing the entity, “Wise Women Will Save the World”. Engaging disengaged women is central to our purpose, because, apart from any other form of activism, we need to catalyze a simultaneous, worldwide, granular approach to eroding patriarchy at every level, and it would be really handy if all the men and women who are not on the ‘behaving badly’ team, were prepared to play their part.

May I conclude by urging you to do one thing in the next day or so – raise the topic of patriarchy during a conversation with people, and see where it leads. It’s a conversation our planet needs us to have.

From our friends at The MAHB. Go to for more excellent articles and conversations. 

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If Pope Francis Really Wanted to Fight Climate Change, He’d Be a Feminist by Katha Pollitt

The world will never be healed of its ecological ills as long as women cannot control their fertility. Doesn’t meeting a desire that women already have seem a strategy more likely to succeed than turning the world into vegetarians or keeping the new middle classes in China and India from buying cars and taking vacations?

If the world consisted only of straight men, Pope Francis would be the world’s greatest voice for everything progressives believe in. He’s against inequality, racism, poverty, bigotry and, as his recent encyclical Laudato Si’ made eloquently clear, the rampant capitalism and “self-centred culture of instant gratification” —including excessive meat eating—that fuel climate change and may well destroy the planet. He has a gift for adding warmth to harsh and inflexible dogma, as with his famous comment on gays: “Who am I to judge?” As I write, he has just announced a special year in which any priest may absolve a woman for having an abortion, as long as she is “contrite.” No wonder leftists and liberals and even secular humanists love him. Naomi Klein seemed positively starstruck in her New Yorker piece about her recent visit to the Vatican, where she spoke at a press conference and symposium about the encyclical. Indeed, she was so impressed with the pope’s “theology of interconnection” and “evangelism of ecology,” she forgot to mention that he had nothing to say about the gender inequality that undergirds and promotes our onrushing disaster.

I know I risk being the feminist killjoy at the vegan love feast, but, unlike Vatican City, the world is half women. It will never be healed of its economic, social, and ecological ills as long as women cannot control their fertility or the timing of their children; are married off in childhood or early adolescence; are barred from education and decent jobs; have very little socioeconomic or political power or human rights; and are basically under the control—often the violent control—of men.

For example, consider population growth. Because of its association with coercion, racism, and doomsday predictions that failed to materialize, it’s hard for progressives to talk about overpopulation. But we must: There are 7.2 billion people on the planet—since 2000, we’ve added around 1.2 billion, roughly equivalent to the entire population of North America and Europe. At the current rates of increase, there will be 9.6 billion people by around 2050. Population density affects everything: climate change, species loss, pollution, deforestation, the struggle for clean water, housing, work, and sufficient food. How can we take the pope seriously if he refuses to face these facts?

Pope Francis places the blame for the sorry state of the planet only on excess consumption by the privileged and says that international campaigns for “reproductive health” (scare quotes his) are really all about population control and the imposition of foreign values on the developing world—as if the church itself was not a foreign power using its might to restrict reproductive rights in those same places. But why is it an either/or question? Why not: There are billions of people who want a modern standard of living, which makes a lot of sense compared to the alternative—backbreaking farm labor in a poor village with no electricity or running water—and those desires can only be satisfied if people have fewer children, which happens to be what they want anyway.

True, Pope Francis did say that Catholics needn’t breed “like rabbits,” but he waved away the need for “artificial” birth control. If only those rabbits would use natural family planning! Interestingly, he made that comment as he was leaving the Philippines, a largely Catholic country where the powerful church hierarchy has fought tooth and nail against realistic sex education and government funding of contraception. Not coincidentally, the Philippines has the highest fertility rate among the 10 countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

According to a recent report from the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, providing family planning to the 225 million women around the world who want it but can’t get it could meet 16 to 29 percent of the necessary decrease in greenhouse-gas emissions. Doesn’t meeting a desire that women already have seem a strategy more likely to succeed than turning the world vegetarian or keeping the new middle classes in China and India from buying cars and taking vacations? Educating girls, keeping women in the workforce, and providing good healthcare for women and children are crucial human-rights goals that also reduce the number of children a woman has.

It’s remarkable that the pope didn’t address a single sentence of his encyclical to these issues, especially since it otherwise deals so intelligently with the interconnection of so many disparate phenomena. Francis has often said that men and women have different gifts and “complementary” roles. He has spoken sweetly of motherhood and femininity and derided the movement for women’s equality as “female machismo.” Yet in Laudato Si’, the word “women” appears only in the phrase “men and women”—that is, people. Don’t women have anything special to contribute to solving climate change beyond serving their too-numerous children less fast food?

As climate disruption heats up, it’s women who will bear the brunt of it, because they are the majority of the world’s poor. Especially in the developing world, they’ll be contending with drought, food shortages, flooding, and forced migration, along with increases in the usual brutalities like rape, violence, trafficking, and war. Under such circumstances, to deny them the ability to control how many kids they bring into the world is to condemn millions of women to the hardscrabble desperation that the pope says he wants to prevent.

There is a great deal of research on how women’s rights, including reproductive rights, can ameliorate a range of global ills, including poverty and ecological disaster. The pope prefers to elide the whole issue, except when it comes to abortion, which he sees as close to the root of the problem: “Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” Given that the church is such a latecomer to concern for the Earth—until recently, the standard theological view held that God put Nature here for Humans to use—there’s a certain chutzpah in using this last-minute conversion to push the same old forced-birth agenda.

Never mind the 47,000 women who die every year in illegal abortions, and the even greater number who are injured: Abortion causes glaciers to melt and species to vanish. From Eden to ecology, it’s always women’s fault.

Source: The Nation online


The annual increase in global population (86.6 million more births than deaths each year) is the most rapid in the history of human kind. A business as usual scenario for the second half of the 21st century suggests the possibility of massive starvation and the certainty of unprecedented migration. In the Sahel the food supply is growing arithmetically the population increasing geometrically. Add in climate change and the possibility of a Malthusian disaster seem possible, unless urgent, large scale policy changes and financial investments in family planning and girls education are made immediately.

Malcolm Potts.

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The Pope and the Planet by Bill McKibben

Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common HomepastedGraphic.png an encyclical letter by Pope Francis, Vatican Press, available at

On a sprawling, multicultural, fractious planet, no person can be heard by everyone. But Pope Francis comes closer than anyone. He has 1.2 billion people in his flock, but even (maybe especially) outside the precincts of Catholicism his talent for the telling gesture has earned him the respect and affection of huge numbers of people. From his seat in Rome he addresses the developed world, much of which descended from the Christendom he represents; from his Argentine roots he speaks to the developing world, with firsthand knowledge of the poverty that is the fate of most on our planet.

Thus he considers the first truly planetary question we’ve ever faced: the rapid heating of the Earth from the consumption of fossil fuels. Scientists have done a remarkable job of getting the climate message out, reaching a workable consensus on the problem in relatively short order. But political leaders, beholden to the fossil fuel industry, have been timid at best—Barack Obama, for instance, barely mentioned the question during the 2012 election campaign. Since Pope Francis first announced plans for an encyclical on climate change, many have eagerly awaited his words.

Laudato Si’ does not disappoint. It does indeed accomplish all the things that the extensive news coverage highlighted: insist that climate change is the fault of man; call for rapid conversion of our economies from coal, oil, and gas to renewable energy; and remind us that the first victims of the environmental crisis are the poor. (It also does Americans the service of putting climate-denier politicians—a fairly rare species in the rest of the world—in a difficult place. Jeb Bush, for example, was reduced to saying that in the case of climate the pope should butt out, leaving the issue to politicians. “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people,” he said, in words that may come back to haunt him.)

Others, from the Dalai Lama to Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu, have spoken eloquently on this issue. Still, Francis’s words fall as a rock in this pond, not a pebble; they help greatly to consolidate the current momentum toward some kind of global agreement. He has, in effect, said that all people of good conscience need to do as he has done and give the question the priority it requires. The power of celebrity is the power to set the agenda, and his timing has been impeccable. On those grounds alone, Laudato Si’ stands as one of the most influential documents of recent times.

It is, therefore, remarkable to actually read the whole document and realize that it turns out to be nothing less than a sweeping, radical, and highly persuasive critique of how we inhabit this planet—an ecological critique, yes, but also a moral, social, economic, and spiritual commentary. In scope and tone it reminded me instantly of E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful (1973), and of the essays of the great American writer Wendell Berry.

The ecological problems we face are not, in their origin, technological, says Francis. Instead, “a certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us.” He is no Luddite (“who can deny the beauty of an aircraft or a skyscraper?”) but he insists that we have succumbed to a “technocratic paradigm,” which leads us to believe that “every increase in power means ‘an increase of “progress” itself’…as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such.” Men and women, he writes, have from the start intervened in nature, but for a long time this meant being in tune with and respecting the possibilities offered by nature. It was a matter of receiving what nature itself allowed, as if from its own hand.

In our world, however, “human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational.” With the great power that technology has afforded us, it has become easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of Earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.

The pope is determined to imagine a world where technology has been liberated to serve the poor, the rest of creation, and indeed the rest of us who pay our own price even amid our temporary prosperity. The present ecological crisis is “one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity,” he says, dangerous to the dignity of us all.

The pope is at his most rigorous when he insists that we must prefer the common good to individual advancement. The world we currently inhabit really began with Ronald Reagan’s and Margaret Thatcher’s insistence on the opposite. (It was Thatcher who said, memorably, “there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families,” and that’s that.) In particular, the pope insists “intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.”

Think of the limitations that really believing that would place on our current activities. And think too what it would mean if we kept not only “the poor of the future in mind, but also today’s poor, whose life on this Earth is brief and who cannot keep on waiting.” We literally would have to stop doing much of what we’re currently doing; with poor people living on the margins firmly in mind, and weighing the interests of dozens of future generations, would someone like to write a brief favoring, say, this summer’s expansion by Shell (with permission from President Obama) of oil drilling into the newly melted waters of the Arctic? Again the only applicable word for this pope is “radical.”

It’s quite possible—probable, even—that the pope will lose this fight. He has united science and spirit, but that league still must do battle with money and corporations. The week the encyclical was released, Congress approved, in bipartisan fashion, fast-track trade legislation, a huge victory for the forces of homogenization, technocracy, finance, and what the encyclical calls “rapidification.”

It’s not that markets shouldn’t play a part in environmental solutions: everyone who’s studied the problem believes that the fossil fuel industry should pay a price for the damage carbon does in the atmosphere—and that that price, if set high enough, would speed up the transition to renewable energy. But the climate movement has largely united behind plans that would take that money from the Exxons of the world and return it to all citizens, which would have the effect of giving poor and middle-class people, who generally use less fossil fuel, a substantial net gain. The new fast-track agreements, by contrast, apparently explicitly forbid new climate agreements as a part of trade negotiations.

The extent of the damage we’ve already done to the climate means we no longer have room for slightly less damaging fossil fuels. We have to make the leap to renewable power. And the good news is that that’s entirely possible. Thanks to the engineers whose creativity the pope celebrates, we’ve watched the price of solar panels fall 75 percent in the last six years alone. They’re now cheap enough that a vast effort could ensure that within ten years there would hardly be a hut or hovel that lacked access to energy, something that the fossil fuel status quo has failed to achieve in two hundred years. Such a change would be carried out by small-scale entrepreneurs of just the sort the pope has in mind when he describes the dignity of work.

It would mean a very different world. It would require, for instance, a world much like the one the pope envisions, where concern for the poor counts as much as the “low motivations of people as they actually are.”

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher summoned the worst in us and assumed that will eventually solve our problems—to repeat their sad phrase, we should rely on the “low motivations of people as they actually are.” Pope Francis, in a moment of great crisis, speaks instead to who we could be individually and more importantly as a species.  As the data suggest, this may be the only option we have left.

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The Anthropocene and Ozymandias by Dave Foreman

Much has been made lately of the so-called Anthropocene—the idea that Homo sapiens has so taken over and modified Earth that we need a new name for our geological age instead of the outmoded Holocene. One remorseless Anthropoceniac writes, ‘Nature is gone… You are living on a used planet. If this bothers you, get over it. We now live in the Anthropocene—a geological era in which Earth’s atmosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere are shaped primarily by human forces.’

One of the reasons given today for renaming the Anthropocene is that we have so impacted all ecosystems on Earth that there is no ‘wilderness’ left. Some behave as though their claim about wilderness being snuffed is a new insight of their own. In truth, we wilderness conservationists have been speaking out about how Homo sapiens has been wrecking wilderness worldwide for at least one hundred years. Bob Marshall, a founder of the Wilderness Society, warned eighty years ago that the last wilderness of the Rocky Mountains was ‘disappearing like a snowbank on a south-facing slope on a warm June day.’

Congress said in the 1964 Wilderness Act that the country had to act then due to ‘increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization’ or we would leave no lands in a natural condition for future generations. My book Rewilding North America documents in gut-wrenching detail how Man has been wreaking a mass extinction for the last 50,000 years or so.

Anthropoceniacs do not seem to understand that when we wilderness conservationists talk about Wilderness Areas we are not playing a mind-game of believing that these are pristine landscapes where the hand of Man has never set foot. Although wilderness holds one end of the human-impact spectrum, it is not a single point but rather a sweep of mostly wild landscapes. Over seventy years ago, Aldo Leopold, the father of the Wilderness Area Idea, wisely wrote, “in any practical program, the unit areas to be preserved must vary greatly in size and in degree of wildness”.

In the sense of the US Wilderness Act (with over seven hundred areas totaling over 109 million acres) and like wilderness systems in other lands worldwide, there is, indeed, wilderness. Moreover, some 25% of Earth’s land is lightly or seldom touched by Man.

But the Anthropoceniacs are really saying that there is no wilderness in its ideal pristine meaning. To answer this assertion, I think we need to put Homo sapiens in better perspective.

Life first wriggled on Earth some 3.5 billion years ago. That is a long time. So, let’s take an easier timeline and only go back to the unfolding of complex animal life—the Cambrian Explosion of 545 million years ago. Make that a book of 545 pages with each page being one million years. With 250 words per page, a word would be four thousand years.

Where are we? Well, if the last sentence on the last page of the book is a long one of some thirteen to fifteen words, we behaviorally modern Homo sapiens left Africa at the beginning of that sentence. We began to ransack biodiversity then. As we spread, we killed the biggest wildlife as we came into new lands. In the middle of the third-to-last word, some of our kind began farming—remaking ecosystems to suit us. In the middle of the second-to-last word, civilizations began.

The very last word in this book of 545 pages takes in the time from 2000 BCE to today. Nearly the whole world met the strictest definition of wilderness until well into the last sentence. Through almost all of that last sentence the share of Earth’s biomass held in our bodies grew very slowly. Much of Earth was untrodden by us for thousands of years. Other than the Overkill of the ‘Big Hairies’, the wounds we inflicted on the Tree of Life only slowly grew. Not until the last hundred years with our exploding population and systemic pollution of Earth with radioactive fallout, antibiotics, artificial biocides, and greenhouse gases, have we finally gotten to the day where we are having an impact everywhere. That is an impact, not total control, not even leaving no lands or seas where Man does not dominate the landscape. When I was nearly run down and stomped by a woolly bully of a musk ox bull in a 16-million-acre Wilderness Area in Alaska a few years ago, I swear to you that Man did not dominate that landscape.

Call the last hundred years the period at the end of the last sentence on the last page of the book of the history of complex animal life. Do you now have a feeling for how long the Tree of Life and Wilderness have been without any harm from a ground ape self-named sapiens?

I’ve taken this twisty path to get to my main damnation of the Anthropoceniacs. Though one can hammer them for major mistakes in history and science as many of my friends have done, my beef is with their view of Man’s place in evolution and on Earth. It is the ethics of the Anthropoceniacs that gives me shudders.

My anger with the Anthropoceniacs is not that they see how Man has taken over Earth (though they overstate greatly). No, my wrath is for the outlook many Anthropoceniacs have toward the ghastly, grisly slaughter of so many wild things. Where is the grief? Where is the shame? Where is the passion to save what’s left? Where is the outrage? Where is the sadness for the loss of so many of our neighbours?

Instead, I see many making merry over the coming of the Anthropocene. ‘We’ve done it!’ they seem to say while high­fiving one another. ‘Man has finally taken over!’ In the writings I’ve read, they seem blissful, even gleeful. ‘Now we are gods!’

The mass extinction of other Earthlings seems not to bring them a tear. Witness the words of Peter Kareiva, the chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy, ‘In many circumstances, the demise of formerly abundant species can be inconsequential to ecosystem function… The passenger pigeon, once so abundant that its flocks darkened the sky, went extinct, along with countless other species from the Steller’s sea cow to the dodo, with no catastrophic or even measurable effects.’ Field biologists and others have shown that this claim is so much biological balderdash—there have been big upsets. However, the true harm, the wound, the loss, the sin was the extinction of the passenger pigeon and the ongoing extinctions of countless other Earthlings who have just as much right to their evolutionary adventure as we have to ours. Maybe more, because they are not screwing up things for others. To say the ‘passenger pigeon… went extinct’ is akin to a mass murderer saying his victims ‘became dead.’ The passenger pigeon did not go extinct; we slaughtered them in a spree of giddy gore in little more than a score of years!

How can anyone who works for something called the Nature Conservancy not feel woe and emptiness at the extinction of the passenger pigeon and all those others we’ve wrought and are causing today and tomorrow to make way for our Brave New World—or is it our Brave New Conservation?

Such uncaring, careless, carefree brushing away of all other Earthlings but for the ecosystem services they give the last surviving ground ape is—how can I say this—WICKED. It is washed in sin, it is treason to life, to Earth, and to all other Earthlings.

The late Stephen Jay Gould was unsparing on this conceit, “[T]he worst and most harmful of all our conventional mistakes about the history of our planet [is] the arrogant notion that evolution has a predictable direction leading toward human life.”

Man is not the unerring outcome or endpoint of hundreds of millions of years of life’s descent with modification, but is, rather, a happy or unhappy (hinging on what kind of Earthling you are) happenstance. We were not ‘meant to be’. Nor is anything Man has done in its flicker of time been meant to be. We happened to become, just as did the curve-billed thrasher getting a drink right now from the birdbath outside my window.

We only happened to be.

It is Homo sapiens’ arrogance that blinds us to our fate. We think that we, unlike every other species, will live forever. It’s not a Thousand­Year Reich we celebrate but an eternal Kingdom of Man Triumphant, of Man over all (über alles) other Earthlings. It is we and we alone who decide who lives and who dies, who offers ecosystem services and therefore gets to stay, and who is mere waste biomass. Some may soothe their conscience by making believe this blood-bath, like us, was meant to be. But it is not so. It is our choice to strip off one third of the limbs of the Tree of Life. We do it willingly, even gleefully, all by our own free will.

The first sentence in Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac spells out much of the moral conflict between wilderness and wildlife conservationists and the Anthropoceniacs and their so-called New Conservation (which is truly only the latest version of Gifford Pinchot’s resource conservation). Leopold wrote:

There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.

We who fight for wilderness and all wild Earthlings cannot live without wild things. We believe wild things are good-in-themselves and need offer no services to Man to be of great worth.

Those who blithely welcome the Anthropocene and can live without wild things see worth in Nature only in what it offers us as ecosystem services.

The Anthropoceniacs seem to believe that not only is Man running evolution now but that all the lessons scientists have learned about how evolution has worked for billions of years have been thrown out for Man in the Brave New Anthropocene geological era.

One who understood this mindset well, this will to power over Earth, was Percy Bysshe Shelley. Some two hundred years ago he wrote:

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear —

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains.

Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Yes, we can read our tale as the steadily growing sway over Earth by Lord Man. But the Anthropocene technocrats who prattle about grabbing the rudder of evolution and making Earth better are the wanton heirs of a Pharaoh’s hubris. Their lovely human garden will stand unclothed as either a barnyard or Dr Frankenstein’s lab for other Earthlings. Three ­and­a­half billion years of life becomes a short overture before Man in all his Wagnerian glory strides singing onto the set. Does our madness have no end? Have we no humility?

For six thousand years, each coming age has puffed out its chest. As each Ozymandias falls to the lone and level sands, a greater and more prideful Ozymandias takes his stead. Goodness is overridden more and more by might and the will to power.

Wilderness Areas are our meek acknowledgement that we are not gods.

Essay adapted from the forthcoming book True Wilderness: Deconstructing Wilderness Deconstruction.

Dave Foreman has worked as a wilderness conservationist since 1971. From 1982 to 1988, he was editor of the Earth First! Journal and one of the outfit’s most visible leaders. He speaks widely on conservation issues and is author of The Lobo Outback Funeral Home (a novel), Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, and The Big Outside (with Howie Wolke). His book on conservation biology and continental-scale conservation, Rewilding North America was published in 2004. His latest books are Man Swarm: How Overpopulation is Killing the Wild World and The Great Conservation Divide, a history of the 20th-century battle between grassroots conservationists and the resourcists in the Forest Service and other agencies over the future of the last wilderness in the United States. He was named by Audubon magazine in 1998 as one of the 100 Champions of Conservation of the 20th Century. For more information see

Source: The Dark Mountain Project, 26th August, 2015

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How to Really Defend Planned Parenthood by Katha Pollitt 

WHY does the pro-choice movement so often find itself in a defensive crouch?

I cringed as I watched Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, apologize in a YouTube video last month for the lack of “compassion” in two doctors’ language at supposed business lunches arranged and secretly recorded by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress.

Not because she wasn’t eloquent, but because of what her words said about the impossibly narrow path abortion providers now are forced to walk. After all, have you ever heard an apology from a crisis pregnancy center for masquerading as an abortion clinic? What about the women in Texas who lost access to gynecological care when the state defunded Planned Parenthood and did not, as promised, adequately replace its services? Has anyone said SORRY about that?

Logically, it’s not important how doctors talk at supposedly private meetings. If they were heart surgeons I doubt it would be an issue. But these are abortion providers, and that makes all the difference. So far, the surreptitiously filmed videos, five of which have now been released, do not, as claimed, show that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for profit, which is against the law.

But the videos do cleverly evoke visceral feelings of disgust—graphic images, physicians using the words “crush” and “crunchy”—to activate the stereotype that abortion providers are money-grubbing baby killers. Why women end up having second trimester abortions, why they choose to donate fetal tissue, what good the research achieves—who cares, when there is outrage to provoke and express?

There are two reasons abortion rights activists have been boxed in. One is that we’ve been reactive rather than proactive. To deflect immediate attacks, we fall in with messaging that unconsciously encodes the vision of the other side. Abortion opponents say women seek abortions in haste and confusion. Pro-choicers reply: Abortion is the most difficult, agonizing decision a woman ever makes. Opponents say: Women have abortions because they have irresponsible sex. We say: rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormalities, life-risking pregnancies.

These responses aren’t false exactly. Some women are genuinely ambivalent; some pregnancies are particularly dangerous. But they leave out a large majority of women seeking abortions, who had sex willingly, made a decision to end the pregnancy and faced no special threatening medical conditions.

We need to say that women have sex, have abortions, are at peace with the decision and move on with their lives. We need to say that is their right, and, moreover, it’s good for everyone that they have this right: The whole society benefits when motherhood is voluntary. When we gloss over these truths we unintentionally promote the very stigma we’re trying to combat. What, you didn’t agonize? You forgot your pill? You just didn’t want to have a baby now? You should be ashamed of yourself.

The second reason we’re stuck in a defensive mode is that too many pro-choice people are way too quiet. According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly one in three women will have had at least one abortion by the time she reaches menopause. I suspect most of those women had someone who helped them, too—a husband or boyfriend, a friend, a parent. Where are those people? The couple who decided two kids were enough, the grad student who didn’t want to be tied for life to an ex-boyfriend, the woman barely getting by on a fast-food job? Why don’t we hear more from them?

It’s not that they think they did something wrong: A recent study published in the journal PLOS One finds that more than 95% of women felt the abortion was the right decision, both immediately after the procedure and three years later. They’ve been shamed into silence by stigma. Abortion opponents are delighted to fill that silence with testimony from their own ranks: the tiny minority of women who say they’re plagued by regret, rape victims glad they chose to continue their pregnancies, women who rejected their doctor’s advice to end a pregnancy and—l ook at these adorable baby pictures!—everything turned out fine.

Make no mistake: Those voices are heard in high places. In his 2007 Supreme Court decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy specifically mentioned the “unexceptionable” likelihood that a woman might come to regret her choice. That women (not mne!) need to be protected from decisions they might feel bad about later—not that there was any evidence supporting this notion –is now a legal precedent.

It is understandable that women who have ended pregnancies just wanted to move on. Why should they define themselves publicly by one private decision, perhaps made long ago? I’ll tell you why: because the pro-choice movement cannot flourish if the mass of women it serves—that one in three—look on as if the struggle has nothing to do with them. Without the voices and support of millions of ordinary women behind them, providers and advocates can be too easily dismissed as ideologues out of touch with the American people.

Women aren’t the only ones who need to speak up. Where are the men grateful not to be forced into fatherhood? Where are the doctors who object to the way anti-abortion lawmakers are interfering with the practice of medicine?

On the issue of fetal-tissue research, we need to hear loud and clear from the scientific community. Anti-abortion activists are calling for a ban on this research, which ironically is used primarily to find treatments for sick babies. Will scientists let that happen?

Planned Parenthood is big. It estimates that one in five women have visited its clinics for health care. But the implications of the video sting, and the congressional scrutiny Planned Parenthood now faces, are even bigger. They’re about whether Americans will let anti-abortion extremists control the discourse and dictate the agenda around reproductive rights, medicine and scientific research. Silence, fear, shame, stigma. That’s what they’re counting on. Will enough of us come forward to win back the ground we’ve been losing?


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Growing, Growing, Gone: Reaching the Limits – An interview with Dennis Meadows

growth_limitsThe Limits to Growth, released in 1972, has profoundly influenced environmental research and discourse over the past four decades. Allen White of the Tellus Institute talks with Dennis Meadows, one of its co-authors, about the genesis of the report and its lessons for understanding and managing our uncertain and perilous global future.

The Limits to Growth report [from the Club of Rome] focused on natural resource demands, pollution, and population growth, yet the Club of Rome’s initial focus was more on weapons, nuclear proliferation, and security. What prompted this shift? 

The shift stemmed from Jay Forrester’s insight that the issues about which we were talking then (and still talk about today)—hunger, poverty, oil depletion, climate change—are not in themselves problems; they are symptoms. The problem is continued material growth in a physically finite world.

Continual physical growth of population and economic activity eventually reaches the point where the globe simply cannot accommodate anymore. Biophysical systems press back, whether through disease, scarcity, climate, or other response mechanisms. These pressures are danger signals, indicating overshoot of some aspect of the planet’s physical limits.

It is very frustrating to me to hear people talking about starvation as a problem and then say that the way to solve it is by producing more food. The only way we are ever going to have adequate food is by stabilizing the population. Regardless of genetic modifications, food subsidies, or improved storage techniques, as long as population continues to grow, we will eventually overshoot our capacity to feed the world.

Upon publication in 1972, The Limits to Growth triggered intense discussion and debate in academic and policy circles. How would you characterize this spectrum of reactions?

First of all, one common misconception about our report was and is that we proved the existence of limits. Our model assumed the existence of limits [on a finite planet] and then traced out the implications. Available data, however, were sufficient to identify and roughly quantify such limits.

It is also important to understand the nature of the controversy surrounding the report. At the risk of oversimplification, there are two kinds of people: those who decide which salient facts they like and then try to trace their implications, and those who decide which implications they like and then look for salient facts to justify them. You see this distinction in full display in contemporary debates around climate change.

The economics profession is based on the assumption that continual growth is possible and desirable. Likewise, most politicians have a predisposition for growth because it makes the problems they address—unemployment, poverty, diminished tax bases—more tractable. Instead of having to divide a fixed pie, which gets you in trouble with some constituents, you can grow the pie so that nobody has to make a sacrifice or compromise. So there was—and is—a set of vested interests in the notion of growth.

Economists claimed that we were underestimating the power of the market or technological innovation, and some politicians argued that we were trying to block the development of the poor.

After four or five years, people lost interest in the debate, and public discourse returned to its traditional short-term, siloed form. In 1992, we came out with the second edition of The Limits to Growth, and there was again a brief, but now much smaller, effort to discredit the work.

In light of the early danger signals that had already appeared by then—ozone depletion, oil shortages, toxic loadings—why was the reaction so muted? 

The first edition was published in thirty-five foreign language editions; the second edition, in fifteen. The number of articles referencing or criticizing Limits in the 1970s was probably ten times what it was in the 1990s. The economists and politicians simply felt less threatened by our analysis the second time around. From their perspective, it was not worth their effort to challenge our findings. The time horizon of politicians and economists was shorter than ever, whereas our analysis focused on longer-term issues.

Were there any regional differences in reaction, e.g., between the US and Europe or between developed and developing countries?

Yes. Of course, when we talk about developing countries, we are dealing with a very diverse group. But, viewed together, the developing countries basically said, “You are the ones who caused the problems, and you have to solve them. Our goal is to develop. And don’t use this kind of analysis to block us from causing the same problems that you caused.”

The Europeans have always been more receptive to the type of analysis found in The Limits to Growth. For example, I get many more invitations to speak in Europe than I do in the U.S. The sales of the book were greater in several European countries than they were in the US. You also see this reflected in legislation. The precautionary principle has substantial standing in Europe, but it is typically dismissed in the United States.

A third edition appeared in 2004. What insights did it offer thirty years after the original?  

In the second and third editions, we revisited our findings, looked at how global trajectories were unfolding, and compared them with our forecasts. Generally speaking, our forecasts were borne out. Last year, Graham Turner of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (and formerly of the Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organisation) analyzed the predictions in The Limits to Growth and found that our business-as-usual forecasts for population growth, economic growth, and environmental impacts have been fairly accurate.

Does the current work on planetary boundaries signal the prescience of The Limits to Growth?

I admire very much the research on ecological footprints and planetary boundaries by Matthis Wackernagel, Johan Rockström, and others. They are dealing with these issues at a level of detail that was not possible back in the 1970s.

Our interests, however, are somewhat different, and I would say that there has not been, to my knowledge, anyone who has focused on our core question, that is, the dynamics of growth in a finite world. Although a recent article on planetary boundaries traces out the future dynamic implications of limits, much of the work in that field focuses only on the limits themselves and our proximity to them.

Were we prescient? In the 1950s, Harrison Brown’s books dealt with the issue of limits without using a computer model. Two centuries ago, Thomas Malthus famously projected a clash between population growth and food provision, albeit in a simplistic way. The ancient literature, too, contains references to the limits to growth and consequences of violating them. Our insights were not unique or unprecedented, but our modeling was.

Regarding modeling and future scenarios: Do you see normative modeling or extrapolative modeling as more powerful for inspiring corrective action?

I think we are now in a situation where it doesn’t make much difference what we want to see happen fifty years from now.

White water rafting provides a useful analogy here. When you are going down the river, most of the time it is placid, but every once in a while, you hit the rapids. When it is placid, you can sit back and think where you want to be, how you should time your journey, where you want to stop for lunch, etc. When you are in the rapids, you focus on the moment, desperately trying to keep your boat upright until you return to quiet waters. During the placid moments, it is very useful to have a discussion about where you want to be tomorrow or the day after. When you are in the rapids, you don’t have the luxury of that kind of discussion. You are trying to survive. Our society has moved into the rapids phase.

Climate change is an example of this. There was a period where we had some possibility of influencing future climate by our decisions about the use of fossil fuels. I think that time has passed. Climate change is increasingly dominated by a set of feedback loops—like the methane cycle and the melting of Arctic ice sheets—which are beyond human control. They have come to be the drivers of the system. The dominant drivers of the system are not people sitting around trying to reach a consensus about which of several different possible outcomes they most prefer.

Any modeling exercise is rife with uncertainty. Under such circumstances, some lean toward optimism, others—like yourself—toward pessimism. What underlies this divergence? 

Our research and reports are neither optimistic nor pessimistic; they are realistic. In my professional life, I lay out our assumptions, support them with empirical data, and then use computer simulations to trace their implications for the future behavior of the system. When the simulations show that current trends cannot be continued, people with a vested interest in current trends may become pessimistic; I do not. In my personal life, I hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

In the next few decades, if we maintain our current trajectory, we are destined to overshoot multiple planetary limits. In the face of this reality, how do we move forward? 

Conventional oil production peaked around 2006. Unconventional oil production, e.g., fracking and tar sands, has continued some degree of growth, but it is a totally different matter. Conventional oil is inexpensive and yields a relatively high energy return on investment. Unconventionals don’t do that. They are expensive, and the net energy return on investment is quite low.

When you don’t have conventional energy sources like oil, you cannot sustain the kind of economic growth rates that we have seen in the past. As a practical matter, then, there is now very little real wealth generation. Most of the economic activity these days consists of those who have more power getting richer by taking away from those with less. This is why we see widening gaps between rich and poor.

Many of the futurists presume large-scale energy consumption of one kind or another. It is energy intensive to coordinate and motivate large assemblies of people and organizations. Absent abundant, cheap energy, this becomes more difficult. I expect that the trend towards global integration is going to stop and then start to recede.

In my own work, I have shifted from a preoccupation with sustainable development, which is somewhat of an oxymoron, toward the concept of resilience. I think that is the future: to understand how different scales—the household, the community, the school––can structure themselves in a way to become more resilient in the face of the shocks that are inevitable regardless what our goals might be.

You see the climate debate evolving this way. Talk about prevention is on the wane, giving way to talk of adaptation. Adaptation really means resilience. It is about designing actions for dealing with New York City the next time superstorms threaten to paralyze the city or for figuring out what California can do if the current drought continues for many more years, or even decades.

Aspirations and good fortune will get us only so far.  Human survival cannot risk reliance on them alone.

Dennis Meadows is Emeritus Professor at the University of New Hampshire, where he was Director of the Institute for Policy and Social Science Research. He co-authored the pioneering 1972 book The Limits to Growth, which analyzed the long-term consequences of unconstrained resource consumption driven by population and economic growth on a finite planet. Dr. Meadows co-founded The Balaton Group in 1982, an international network of researchers and practitioners in fields related to systems and sustainability, and co-authored updates to The Limits to Growth in 1992 and 2004. 

Source: Great Transition Initiative, June 2015.      <>

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The Values of Hope and Happiness from the David Suzuki Foundation

Materialistic values undermine well-being, perpetuate feelings of insecurity and weaken the ties that bind us as human beings.

Materialistic values undermine well-being, perpetuate feelings of insecurity and weaken the ties that bind us as human beings.

A fight is going on inside us, between two wolves. Which wolf will win? The one we feed.*

Reading the news, it’s hard not to feel a growing sense of unease. The threat of terrorism, growing instability and conflict overseas, and uncertainty about the economy diminish our collective feelings of safety and security. To this we add the looming environmental threats of climate change, pollution, declining ocean health, oil spills and extreme weather.

All of it takes a psychological toll, even when we’re not directly affected. Studies show that when we feel threatened, we isolate ourselves and focus on restoring our sense of security.

Many people attempt to alleviate anxiety by grasping for wealth, seeking pleasure and taking solace in achievement or status. But this strategy backfires. Instead of bolstering our sense of security and well-being, it diminishes it.

Across cultures and regardless of age and gender, people whose values centre on social position and accumulation of money and possessions actually face a greater risk of unhappiness, including anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. In his book The High Price of Materialism, psychology professor Tim Kasser shows how materialistic values undermine well-being, perpetuate feelings of insecurity and weaken the ties that bind us as human beings.

People who are materialistic also tend to be less interested in ecological issues, have negative attitudes toward the environment and demonstrate fewer instances of sustainable behaviour. That’s a tragedy for humanity and the rest of life on Earth.

Cross-cultural research in social science has identified a set of consistently occurring human values. Social psychologists refer to one cluster as “extrinsic”, or materialistic. These are concerned with our desire for achievement, status, power and wealth. Opposite to those are “intrinsic” values. They relate to caring, community, environmental concern and social justice.

Although each of us carries both, the importance we attach to one set of values tends to diminish the importance of the other. When power values like social status, prestige and dominance come first, the universal values of tolerance, appreciation and concern for the welfare of others are suppressed.

The U.K.-based Common Cause Foundation is synthesizing this growing body of values research. It offers guidance to social change organizations on ways to engage cultural values to further their causes. Because values are like muscles — they get stronger the more we exercise them — activists can consciously stimulate intrinsic values in communications and campaigns.

Researchers have also discovered what they call the values “bleed-over effect”. Because values tend to exist in clusters, when one is activated, so are compatible neighbouring values. For example, people reminded of generosity, self-direction and family are more likely to support pro-environmental policies than those reminded of financial success and status.

The forces behind planetary crises are complex. History, politics and economics influence how humans act. Social change requires a focus on individual behaviour, corporate responsibility and government policy. In today’s unstable political environment, values must also be part of the equation.

That’s where we find an important connection between environmental and social justice movements. On a values level, the efforts and strategies to combat climate change and biodiversity loss complement and strengthen those required to bring about greater equality. When environmentalists invoke intrinsic values to increase support for their cause, they also increase support for social justice.

Because values are an important driver of attitudes and behaviour, they are essential to changing social norms. What can we do as individuals? Our social responsibility goes deeper than our consumer habits and voting choices. We need to reflect on what’s important to us. We all deserve to feel secure in our homes and communities, but we can’t depend on the false sense of security that isolation or materialistic pursuits bring. When psychological insecurity is on the rise, we need to stay committed to the values that make us environmentalists and champions of social justice. Instead of retreating to our corners, let’s turn toward one another to re-establish our sense of security and strength.

The good news is that values that support a healthy society and sustainable planet — self-respect, concern for others, connection with nature, equality — also make us happiest in the long term. Each one of us is a value prism, subtly bending the light in a particular direction. Let’s be conscious of where we direct our light.

From our friends at the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Public Engagement Specialist Aryne Sheppard.

*An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life.
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. “One is evil — he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego. “The other is good — he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. “This same fight is going on inside you — and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old chief simply replied, “The one you feed.”

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