We do not have a democracy in the United States.
Any country where only half of the eligible voters are registered
and where only half of those who are registered vote and where
only half of those who vote like their choice is not a democracy.
Any country that isn't ruled by its government, that is ruled
instead by the Fortune 500, isn't a democracy. And any world
government that is ruled by transnational corporations isn't
a democracy. Yet such is the state of our national and global
governments. According to my definition, a corporation is, right
now, by law, a lawyer's attempt to create something that
can act like a person without a conscience. If you are a CEO
or a member of the Board of Directors of a corporation that bypasses
an opportunity for profit, you can be sued by the stockholders!
There should at least be something written into law that says
you can bypass it for sound social or ecological reasons. If
you're asked to invest, there should be an Environmental Impact
Statement on what your money is going to do to the Earth. If
you're going to take over a company because it is trying
to operate with a conscience and it's making all the money it
can and that's why you're trying to take it over, there should
certainly be an Environmental Impact Statement on that.
All of these conditions should be required. We should bring this
about and see if we can instill ecological conscience into corporate
behavior. If that happened,
I think we'd be much better off.
I thought it would be useful to do an exercise
in perspective relating to time. Squeeze the age of the Earth,
four and a half billion years, into the Six Days of Creation
for an instant replay. Creation begins Sunday midnight. No life
until about Tuesday noon. Life comes aboard, with more and more
species, more variety, more genetic variability. Millions upon
millions of species come aboard, and millions leave. By Saturday
morning at seven, there's enough chlorophyll so that fossil fuels
begin to form. At four o'clock in the afternoon, the great reptiles
are onstage; at nine o'clock that night they're hauled off. But
they had a five
Nothing like us appears until three or four
minutes before midnight, depending on whose facts you like better.
No Homo sapiens until a half minute before midnight. We
got along as hunter-gatherers pretty well, but the population
couldn't have been very big; for those of you concerned about
how many hunter-gatherers the Earth can sustain, the range I've
heard is between five and twenty-five million people. Then we
got onto this big kick: we wanted more of us, we wanted
to push forests out of the way so we could feed more people.
We wanted to shift from hunting and gathering to starch and thereby
start the first big energy crisis (because the greatest energy
shortage on Earth is of fuel wood). So we got into agriculture
one and a half seconds before midnight. That recently. By the
next half-second, we had been so successful that the forests
ringing the Mediterranean Sea, for example, were reduced to the
pitiful fragments that are the Cedars of Lebanon. That was in
one half-second. At about the end of that half-second-we're now
one second before midnight-after all this time of life
being on Earth we began to invent religions.
If I could go back to a point in history to
try to get things to come out differently, I would go back and
tell Moses to go up the mountain again and get the other tablet.
Because the Ten Commandments just tell us what we're supposed
to do with one another, not a word about our relationship with
the Earth (at least not according to any of the translations
I've seen so far). Genesis starts with these commands: multiply,
replenish the Earth, and subdue it. We have multiplied very well,
we have replenished our population very well, we have subdued
all too well, and we don't have any other instruction! The Catholic
church just put "stewardship" in its vocabulary within
the last seven or eight years!
So here we are now, a third of a second before
midnight: Buddha. A quarter of a second: Christ. A fortieth of
a second: the industrial revolution. We began to change ecosystems
a great deal with agriculture, but now we can do it with spades-coal-powered,
fossil-fuel-powered spades. We begin taking the Earth apart,
getting ideas about what we can do, on and on, faster and faster.
At one-eightieth of a second before midnight we discover oil,
and we build a civilization that depends on it. Then, at two-hundredths
of a second, we discover how to split the atom, and we begin
the GNP race. (I've been told it was the Soviets who started
it, and the United States didn't want anybody to have a grosser
national product than ours.) But that's not the race we need;
we must change how we think about GNP.
That reminds me of a paradigm shift I've had in mind recently.
Through the years I've been quoting Adlai Stevenson in the last
speech he gave as our ambassador to the United Nations. It was
July 1965 when he said:
travel together, passengers on a little space ship, dependent
upon its vulnerable reserves of air and soil, all committed for
our safety to its security and peace, preserved from annihilation
only by the care, the work, and I will say the love we give our
fragile craft. We cannot maintain it half fortunate and half
miserable, half confident, half despairing, half slave to the
ancient enemies of mankind and half free in a liberation of resources
undreamed-of until this day. No craft, no crew can travel safely
with such vast contradictions. On their resolution depends the
survival of us all.
I wish every person who ever occupied the Oval
Office had heard this passage and committed it to memory and
done something about it; it would be a totally different world
right now if that had happened. But I think Adlai Stevenson,
if he were here now, might accept an editorial suggestion or
two. One, we have not liberated resources; we are extirpating
resources. Two, let's rethink: our global conditions are not
so clearly defined as to be half one way and half another way;
it's more like 5 percent and 95 percent in the inequity quotient
of this Earth.
What is happening?
I think we're getting better and better at having despair and
needing to have it. But I'll tell you about the people of Ladakh,
the place in India where Helena Norberg-Hodge has been working
for half of every year for the past seventeen years. She is trying
to bring information from Ladakh to us while also trying to prevent
too much of our information from getting to them (unfortunately,
she's losing that struggle a little bit). The Sierra Club has
just come out with a book entitled Ancient Futures,
with pictures of the people in Ladakh. When you look at these
pictures, there's no great evidence of wealth there, but there
is evidence of something else. You see some of the most beautiful
faces; you see some of the nicest smiles; you see some inner
happiness that you don't see in our supermarkets or on Park Avenue.
Where is the despair?
Another thing that is happening is that we
are not getting the truth. This is "the Era of Disinformation."
Let me tell you a true story about a Cree Indian who came down
to a city for the first time, to a courtroom, and sat in the
witness chair and was asked, "Do you promise to tell the
truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" And
his answer, according to the interpreter, was: "I can't
tell the truth; I can only say what I know." That is so
beautiful. It has something in it that we, including environmentalists,
lack an awful lot of: it has humility. It's true for all of us,
because we don't know the truth.
To take that further, it seems to me that the
more we know, the less we know. I have a beautiful example of
that, relating to genetic diversity. When Bernie Frank was the
head of the Division of Forest Influences, United States Forest
Service-and this must have been during the late 1950s-he said,
"We know next to nothing about forest soils." If there
was anything known about forest soils, that's where it would
have been known. Four years ago, at a conference in Berkeley
on restoring the Earth, we had some experts on mycorhizal fungi,
fungi that live in symbiotic relationships with the roots of
most tree and plant species. These experts have been studying
them for quite awhile, they're learning more and more about how
many different species of mycorhizal fungi there are and how
complicated the relationships are between the fungi and the roots,
but they still can't define these relationships exactly. As for
the general knowledge of forest soils in the forest industry,
forestry schools, and Forest Service today, it is even less than
it was thirty-five years ago.
E. O. Wilson tells us in The Diversity of
Life that there are something like four thousand different
species of bacteria per pinch of soil. We are familiar with the
concept of genetic diversity-according to Wilson we have identified
1.4 million species of plants and animals - but we have no idea
how many more exist. The estimates I've heard range from five
to eighty million! So, as we discover more, we discover that
we know less and less about more and more. This is something
that should instill some humility into us. It should give us
the idea that our agricultural binge - our whole Industrial Age
binge - cannot go on. We need to rethink, and our institutions
are not ready for it.
To return to the "instant replay":
let's back up to a hundredth of a second before midnight. That's
when I was born; I mention this for one reason: a huge amount
of environmental destruction has taken place since the early
1900s. The population of the Earth has tripled. The population
of California has gone up by a factor of twelve. The Earth as
a whole has used four times as many resources in those brief
eighty years as in all previous history. In our great state of
California we had, when I was born, six thousand miles of salmon
streams; now we're down to two hundred. We had roughly 80 percent
of the original stand of Redwoods, which grow nowhere else but
California (except for a few migrants that slipped into Oregon,
not knowing what they were doing); that 80 percent is down to
4 1/2 percent. I go into these numbers because all of this has
happened in eighty years.
In the past twenty years we have created enough new, man-made
deserts - I say "man-made" because women had very little
to do with it - to equal the area of cropland in China. We've
lost soil through erosion, paving, development, condominiums,
suburbia, and inundation by such things as the nonrenewable hydroelectric
development in Quebec (the first stage of which, in the James
Bay project, inundated four thousand square miles of forest).
Now, if you've just learned that there may be four thousand species
of bacteria per pinch of soil and you think of the things we're
throwing at that soil to get more and faster productivity, you
realize that we're on the wrong track. We're wiping out species
before we have the foggiest idea that they're there. As Noel
Brown of the United Nations Environment Program put it, we may
already have destroyed the cure for AIDS. Jay Hair of the National
Wildlife Federation tells that when his daughter was three, her
doctor said, "She has four days to live," and when
he told that story a few years ago, she was then in college,
doing all right. The medicine that cured her disease was derived
from the rosy periwinkle, which grew only in Madagascar and is
now extinct. We're wiping out species everywhere we can possibly
Now it's midnight, and there's a new day coming. What are you
going to do with it? You're going to have an important
role in what happens in this new day or the next six days or
whatever it may be.
But I don't think we're quite ready for it.
To begin with, we feel that we have to blame somebody. It's none
of us-none of us is guilty for all this, of course-so let's blame
the economists. I quote Hazel Henderson: "Economics is a
form of brain damage." I heard Fritz Schumacher, when he
was lecturing out in Marin County, California, tell this story:
There were three people arguing about whose profession was the
oldest. The doctor said, "Mine is the oldest, because it
took a procedure to get Eve out of Adam." The architect
said, "But it took an architect to build a universe out
of Chaos." And the economist said, "And who do you
think created Chaos?" That is a beautiful story, and it
should be carved in stone where the E. F. Schumacher Society
has its headquarters. Hazel is an economist, and Fritz was an
economist, and even they blame the economists!
Economists are in trouble because they leave
out of their calculations two terribly important factors, which
they name and do nothing about: the cost to the Earth and the
cost to the future. In fact, as David Orr pointed out in his
lecture, they discount these factors. That implies they're essentially
of no value. Leave out the cost to the Earth, leave out the cost
to the future, and whatever your final number is, it's worthless.
We're getting worthless advice from those economists who are
giving most of the advice about how to run our government, including
advice about the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. One
of my definitions of GATT is that it's the end run around the
environmental gains of the last century. It is just pure gravy
for the transnationals.
We've got to do something about one of our
worst addictions: the addiction to growth. All of the candidates
running for office are saying, "We must have a growing economy."
If they want to keep it growing the way it has been growing,
we absolutely must not have a growing economy. We must have a
sound economy, a sustainable economy. They haven't
come up with one single notion of how to move it in that direction.
What are we going to do besides grow, grow, grow? In your own
body, where the wildness within you puts in a control factor,
you have a thymus. Civilization needs a thymus. It needs the
word for "enough." But "enough" doesn't sound
strong enough - Italian has the right word: "basta.
" We must say basta to the kind of growth we've been practicing.
Another thing we need, as Adlai Stevenson pointed
out, is love for the fragile craft Earth and all its inhabitants.
We haven't been good about that. One small way we could show
love would be not just to criticize somebody who's done something
we don't like but to thank somebody who's done something we do
like. We don't thank the people who deserve it. Think back to
Richard Nixon when he first came into office: he made the best
speech on population control any president has ever made, before
or since. He hedged it a little bit, but nobody has touched what
he did. Certainly not Ronald Reagan or George Bush. John Ehrlichman
told me in 1969, "That speech was a dud. It bombed at the
box office. No support." So I have asked many of my audiences,
"How many people think we have a population problem?"
Hands up all over the place. "How many people thanked Richard
Nixon for what he did?" On the average, only one hand in
Jimmy Carter got into the same kind of box
on the subject of nuclear power and whether or not to build breeder
reactors. Legislation favoring these reactors had passed Congress.
He wanted to veto it but felt that he had no alternative except
to sign it. I was one of thirteen people who met with Carter
to discuss the bind he was in, and eventually it was a letter
I signed, which was written by Jeff Knight, Friends of the Earth's
energy specialist, that convinced Carter he could veto it. He
did! I have also asked audiences, "How many thought that
legislation needed to be vetoed?" Almost everybody. "How
many thanked Jimmy Carter?" One in a thousand. Yet this
is one way we can show a bit of love: by thanking somebody for
doing something right. We don't all have to do everything right,
but if a person does one thing right, then maybe, with thanks,
that person will do something else right. Just think for a moment
what might have happened to Richard Nixon if that speech had
had the support it deserved-he might have been a completely different
I have my own axiom: not to love thy neighbor
as much as thyself but to love thy neighbor more than thyself.
This might be quite useful to practice, because out of that behavior
something else happens. For example, it could help us be more
aware of "the Law of the Minimum": that it doesn't
matter how many plants there are if you don't have land; it doesn't
matter how much land you have if you don't have soil on it; it
doesn't matter how much soil you have if you don't have water
for it; it doesn't matter how much water you have if you don't
have air; it doesn't matter how much air if you don't have oxygen;
or how much oxygen if you don't have judgment; or how much judgment
if you don't have love. It would certainly help our transnationals
and the "Misfortune 500" if they considered the Law
of the Minimum.
This interrelation is terribly important, and
there are parts of it that we're not thinking about. I'll just
touch for a moment on oxygen. The amount of oxygen on Earth is
decreasing because we're getting rid of the world's forests as
fast as we possibly can. While a tree is alive, chlorophyll locks
up carbon and frees oxygen. But when a great tree falls, it may
take two thousand years-or, depending on its chemistry and climate,
maybe only two hundred or five hundred or nine hundred years-for
it to turn into soil again. During that time it's going to require
back all the oxygen it freed so that it can feed Robert Frost's
"slow, smokeless burning of decay." This decay is absolutely
essential to complete the continuing revolution of the cycles
of life, particularly the carbon cycle, but it does require oxygen.
Simultaneously, we are releasing the carbon that was buried and
became fossil fuels over the course of five hundred million years.
We have quite a bit of locked-up carbon that could stay
locked up, and what do we do with it? We dig it up as fast as
we can and put it out as many tailpipes as we can, and we say,
"This is jobs." If you're worried about the ozone barrier,
then you've got to realize that the damage is going to continue
for a long time. CFCs are migrating up; they are destroying ozone
now and will continue to destroy it for a hundred years even
if their use is stopped today. (I got this number out of the
special Fall 1992 issue of Time, "Beyond the Year
2000: Preparing for the Next Millennium.").
So for you twenty-year-olds I've got
a lot of sympathy. People my age can "check out" reasonably
soon, but what is going to happen as this atmospheric imbalance
continues to worsen? What is going to heal it? I don't know enough
high-school chemistry to know anything but this: if you want
O3 back, you've got to have some O2 to play with. But we're getting
rid of it. So what do we do? People are talking about a carbon
tax and other measures, but what we need to do is pay the people
who have forests and pay the countries that are storing fossil
fuels to keep them where they are. We need to slow down their
use as fast as we possibly can, to use every bit of science and
technology and humanity we can to slow it down. To say basta
to what we've been up to. It's terribly important if you like
to breathe. And what are we going to do about the soil if they
keep doing to the soil what they've done? There's a big constituency
out there of people who like to eat, who like to breathe, and
we've got to organize this group.
Where do we start? One opportunity for action
is the James Bay situation. I'm on this trip East to try to do
something about James Bay, the "thumb" that hangs down
from the Hudson Bay. This is my third time here for this purpose.
James Bay has a lot of rivers flowing into it, and HydroQuebec-the
HydroMafia of Quebec-has been working hard to see if it can get
rid of that free-flowing water and turn it into kilowatt-hours
for New England. It's going to cost New England fifty billion
dollars to finance that operation and receive hydroelectricity.
Fortunately, Governor Cuomo-for economic reasons, not for ecological
reasons-pulled out of the contract (and I thanked him for it).
That puts a big bite of vulnerability into it. Now we've got
to get the New England states to pull out. We need to have the
people who hold HydroQuebec bonds get rid of them in order to
send a signal. We're going to go after universities and other
holders of major funds and pressure them to divest themselves
of HydroQuebec bonds.
What HydroQuebec wants to do to the Cree Indians
is essentially to wipe out their habitat and wipe them
out-the same general attitude Henry Kissinger showed toward Micronesia
when he said, "There are only ninety thousand people down
there; who gives a damn?" HydroQuebec says, "There
are seventeen thousand Cree up there, and we do indeed give a
dam; we want to build all the dams we possibly can!" Here's
a culture that knows its terrain better than we know ours, that
has not just a hands-on approach to the Earth but a feet-on
approach, and we're trying to destroy it. We're going on the
idea-the myth-that hydroelectric energy is renewable, but it's
not renewable, because it depends on reservoirs. It's
a one-shot thing. It's mining the dam site: you use the dam site
up, and that's it. And it's messing around with rivers, taking
the meanders out. Rivers know what they're doing-meanders slow
the river down, rechanneling it and recharging aquifers. When
aquifers can't recharge, what happens? The Kissimmee River in
Florida. The Corps of Engineers straightened it out. Now that
they've realized their mistake, they're spending fifty million
dollars to put the bends back in. Well, that's jobs.
We've got to find alternative forms of energy, certainly alternatives
to wasting energy. We've got to cut off these hydroprojects right
now. Only God can make a dam site, and we've occupied a lot of
them already. We don't need to go on in China, in India, in Japan.
I want Hetch Hetchy dam in Yosemite down so that we get another
Yosemite Valley in our park. That can be done. Because of the
numbers I was throwing at you just now-the resources used up,
the population increased-we need a completely new look, a new
insight, a new vision of what we're going to do. We've got to
worry about numbers. We've got to worry about our appetite, and
the best place to start is right at home with our overconsumption.
We can stop overconsuming immediately. Just keep your wallet
in your pocket, and we'll cut consumption down fast. Yet, as
E. O. Wilson says about these numbers, we aren't willing to do
anything really drastic. In the case of population control, an
acceptable limit is no more than two children per family. I would
prefer just one per family, but that means in a short time there
will be no cousins anymore. So leave it at two per family, in
the families that want them and can take care of them. I firmly
believe in life after birth; population control enhances life.
The big pressure is our pressure, our
overconsumption. And we have our own Third World, as you know;
the homeless aren't using much, people in the ghettoes aren't
using much. But those of us who aren't poor are the problem.
Buy, buy, buy; consume, consume, consume; toss it away, toss
it away. There are people in Massachusetts spending seven million
dollars to fight Measure 3, which calls for recycling in a very
imaginative way; it could be an example for the rest of the United
States. We got the governor to say that their arguments were
erroneous, but that was boiled down to a tiny piece on page twenty-eight
of The Boston Globe.
This brings me
to a key area for action: we have to free the media, break the
sound barrier. We've got to get the word out, and the media can't
get the word out because most of them are indentured. The alternative
press, of course, is not indentured, and there are two specific,
contrasting examples of fairly "free" magazines. Ms.
magazine carries no ads. Its editors made that decision because
they wanted to be free to speak. They didn't want advertisers
looking over their shoulders, and they had firm ideas about what
they wanted to tell their audience. They needed to have a circulation
of 150,000 to make it work without ads, and as I understand it,
they have 250,000, and it's working. That's one way to freedom.
But the other way, strangely enough, is in a magazine that is
absolutely loaded with ads, and I don't approve of all of them,
by any means: The New Yorker. Remember what The New
Yorker did under William Shawn? It gave an entire issue to
John Hershey's Hiroshima. One issue, maybe it was two,
to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Three issues to Encounters
with the Archdruid, John McPhee's interview with me. Again
and again The New Yorker carries pieces that are hard-hitting.
I haven't seen it for the past three weeks-I travel too much-but
I understand that even with the new editor it's still hard-hitting.
In "The Talk of the Town" this week there's apparently
an article providing grounds for the impeachment of George Bush.
They are bold. They don't give a damn what their advertisers
want, but they get them anyway. Their boldness makes them a required
medium for advertisers to advertise in. I wish the rest of the
media would try that out.
a stand on environmental issues is one thing they don't try out.
I have been interviewed seven times by Time magazine.
They have not put in a word of what I said. The first time was
when the Alaska pipeline was the cover story. I had a long interview
on that. Phil Herrera (he was then the environment editor) put
a lot of that material in and submitted it. But took out everything
I'd said (although they left in a picture of me!). Phil said
it was taken out by the advertising department. So we do
have to free the media. They should all be willing and able to
say what they think without having to look over their shoulder
and wonder, "What will the advertiser think if I do this?"
That goes for PBS and NPR as well as anybody else. We must
free the media, and that will happen only when corporations learn
how to operate with conscience. When the corporations do that
and the media are free, we'll get our democracy back because
the people running for office won't have to go to the Fortune
500 or the transnationals to fund their campaigns. We'll do more
of what Jerry Brown was doing with his 800 number: no more than
a hundred dollars from anybody. With that 800 number, by that
process, he raised twelve million dollars.
What else can we do?
Let me tell you about Sam LaBudde. Although you may not know
the name, I think you know what he did: he took his courage and
his camcorder, which had been given to him by Earth Island Institute
and Earth Trust, and he got a job aboard a fishing ship, working
as a cook. He said the camcorder was a toy given to him by his
father and he wanted to see how it worked. In the July 1989 issue
of The Atlantic there was a good cover story on him, written
by the writing member of our family, Kenneth Brower. Sam did
something that anybody could do-at least anybody who is thirty-two
and a biologist-he got aboard that ship and took camcorder footage
of what was going on in the industry. One of the best shots shows
a set of nets surrounding a school of tuna located under dolphins,
and the nets bring in three tuna and kill more than a hundred
dolphins. Hundreds of thousands of dolphins have been killed
by the tuna fishing industry. Sam's tape has been made into specials
and news broadcasts around the world. That tape took a Fortune
500 company-H. J. Heinz-and turned it around. After a little
bit of struggle and some full-page ads Earth Island finally got
Bumble Bee to admit they weren't telling the truth about their
fishing methods. So the American tuna industry is now giving
you "dolphin-safe" tuna. Mexico's tuna industry continues
to kill dolphins, and they accuse us of eco-imperialism for saying
we will not accept their tuna because it kills dolphins. They're
being supported by the GATT philosophy! GATT says Mexico is right
and we are wrong to protect dolphins and to be proud of it. What
we can do now is to help fund-I think Heinz could help fund-research
and development by Mexico that will enable them to catch tuna,
as Heinz is doing, without killing dolphins. They might just
as well learn how to do that, because if they kill all the dolphins,
where will they look for their tuna? It's like the old-growth
forests: if we kill all the old-growth forests for the sake of
jobs, what will the lumber industry do when the forests are gone?
Next, Sam LaBudde
went aboard a driftnet ship. These ships set out thirty-five
thousand miles of driftnet every night. Then they haul it in.
It catches fish that shouldn't be caught, that need to grow some
more and go back to the streams where they came from. Whales,
seals, dolphins, marine birds, and turtles are killed in the
driftnets. Their lives are wasted. Sam sums it up as strip-mining
the high seas. His footage on that has brought changes at the
United Nations level. Japan has recently said it will stop using
driftnets. Thirty-two years old, bold, with camcorder. Then Sam
went up to Alaska, where young Alaskans were machine-gunning
walruses to trade their ivory tusks for drugs.
By this time Sam was
getting a little depressed, so he came up with the idea of an
Earth Corps. I've been working on that: an Earth Corps to take
up where the Peace Corps leaves off. The Earth Corps would be
global, whereas the Peace Corps is just a national thing. It
hasn't been very interested in the environment. It's more interested
now, but it still isn't willing to displease the transnational
corporations. We want to be able to displease them if
necessary. What we want was described reasonably well, though
just briefly, by Mikhail Gorbachev two years ago January at the
Global Forum in Moscow. In that speech Gorbachev called for a
"Green Cross." That's a better name than Earth Corps.
The Red Cross takes care of damage the Earth does to people;
the Green Cross will take care of damage people do to the Earth,
to balance things out. It sounded like a great idea, so we started
an Earth Island call for the International Green Cross. Then
we ran into static from people who were offended by the symbol
of the cross. They liked the crescent, they liked the Star of
David, but they were offended by the cross. Carl Anthony, the
president of Earth Island Institute, suggested that we call it
the "International Green Circle." That sounded okay.
We thought, "Anyone who lives on a spherical planet and
is offended by a circle is in trouble anyway; we'll ignore them."
So we called it the International Green Circle, which is a nice,
innocuous name, but nobody knows what it is about. Now we're
calling it the "Global C.P.R. Corps": Conservation,
Preservation, and Restoration. A corps like this will help to
start the paradigm shift that must come about. We cannot afford
to continue feeding our economy, our greed, and what my wife
calls our "greedlock." We're running out of some of
the things in the Law of the Minimum; we're going over the edge
in a so-called Giant Step for Mankind that nobody needs. We've
got to avoid it, to do a one-eighty, to make a tire-screeching
U-turn and not go over that edge.
I can see no better
way to do this than by making a major effort to go back to where
we've been, leaving the wildness that remains wild, fulfilling
the maxim of Henry David Thoreau, "In wildness is the preservation
of the world." We must honor wildness, for as Nancy Newhall
writes in This is the American Earth, "The wilderness
holds answers to questions we have not yet learned how to ask."
It's exciting to discover-it's fun to discover-how nature
works, to find out, for example, that we have to make
cement at 1800° Fahrenheit, while a hen can make better
cement per unit at 103°, and a clam can do it at seawater
temperature. What's the trick? We don't know, but I wouldn't
mind finding out. Other examples: the bombardier beetle makes
actual steam in an internal chamber and fires it at its enemies;
another beetle does something to the surface tension of water
that makes water skaters sink and become its prey. The giant
water bug injects, say, a frog with a chemical that dissolves
everything inside the frog's skin-turns it into liquid-and then
the bug sucks it out.
So there's all this
exciting stuff to discover! We haven't spoiled it all, and we
can save all that's left of it! We can go back to where we've
been and do better. To science and technology we can add humanity
and compassion and go back. Who will do this? Well, we want some
teams. We want to build restoration teams on which all the creeds
are represented, all the colors, all the ages (I still want something
to do), all the classes, and all the sexes. We want to build
teams that are willing to put aside their favorite prejudices
and get into a symbiotic, instead of an aggressive, relationship
with others. We don't agree on a great many things, but we can
agree that we've got to restore the damage we've done to Earth.
We have examples of
restoration work that has been done. Jerry Brown did some when
he was the governor of California by supporting the "Investing
for Prosperity" program: when the legislature was cutting
every other program, Investing for Prosperity got a hundred and
twenty-five million dollars a year to restore forests, wetlands,
streams, soil fertility, and other things, and many of these
investments have paid off already. Then there's Dan Janzen of
the University of Pennsylvania, restoring the dry tropical forest
of Costa Rica, and Earth Island Institute, helping to protect
Siberia's Lake Baikal. We're trying to get a restoration movement
going at Earth Island. We want every institution to get
involved in it. It's the alternative to war. One of the problems
with peace is that it's been rather dull-it's not much fun; if
you put restoration into it, it can be great fun, and it can
be profit-making. If you don't think so, try taking your car
to the shop or your body to your doctor, and find out who's making
money. You're glad to pay it: the car works better or your body
works better (you hope), so it's a good investment.
There is no better
investment, whatever it costs, than getting Earth's life-support
systems back in life-supporting, working order. People are worried
about the taxing and spending that might be required to pay these
costs, but we've been borrowing and spending as well as deferring
maintenance and replacement, for the past twelve years! We need
to pay for restoration because we need to save the wild. If we
were to ask the twenty-year-olds and under in the audience, "Would
you be willing to pay the bill for restoring the Earth so we
can live on it?" I think I know what the answer would be.
We have the opportunity now to invest in prosperity, to invest
in ecological sanity, and to invest in an understanding of how
the Earth works and what we have to do to help it work. We can
help nature heal. But we can't be so arrogant as to think we've
got all the answers, because we haven't; if we're not careful,
we'll make mistakes like bringing more rabbits to Australia or
We're getting rid
of wildness before we have the faintest idea of what we're eliminating.
We have got to stop. We can stop by going back to where we've
been and doing better there, not by going on further with
the idea that we need more and more and more. I think we're getting
tired of trashing wildness. It's not making us happy and it's
not making us healthy; it's making us miserable and despairing.
So here's a task; it's a challenging one. I've
now talked to more than two hundred seventy thousand people.
At the end of my pitch for restoration I have asked each audience-and
now I'm asking you, "How many people in this audience would
be willing to commit at least a year of their lives, out of the
next ten, to volunteering for this restoration effort, either
getting paid or not?"... That's pretty good.
The point is that
this is the public wish, as I have seen it represented in these
audiences. They haven't just been members and friends of the
Schumacher Society: they've been media people; they've been the
Physicians for Social Responsibility; they've been directors,
writers, and producers in Hollywood; they've been the audiences
I talked to in Japan and in the ex-U.S.S.R. Wherever I have gone,
at least two-thirds of the people put their hands up. So the
wish is there. The ability to lead needs to be worked
on-we need leaders, we need organizers, and of course it would
help to have a little money. If you follow through and
help organize this and enlist others to help organize it, then
it will happen. If it doesn't, we've had it! Civilization as
we know it will have had it. We can't continue going that way,
we've got to turn around.
We can do it; the
talent is here. My old mountaineer friend, William H. Murray,
in his book The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, expresses
his deep admiration for a couplet from Goethe:
Whatever you can
do, or dream you can, begin it; boldness has genius, power and
magic in it.
Do you have magic in you? You bet. Because
the minimum of genetic material - the amount necessary to give
us all the messages about where our hundred million rods and
cones go and about the whole works, conscious mind and unconscious
- would fit in a sphere a sixth of an inch in diameter. That
sums up the minimum genetic material needed to produce the hundred
billion people who have ever lived. That magic, that miracle
of life, has been passed on for three and a half billion years.
In that time millions of species went by the wayside, but we
didn't. From when it began three and a half billion years ago
to everyone here: no mistakes, no failure. So a little tiny part
of each of us is three and a half billion years old, and everything
that's alive is related. How did this miracle happen? What shaped
it? What informed it? It wasn't civilization, because there wasn't
any. It was something else. It was wilderness. That's
all there was. Trial and error, success and failure, symbiosis;
wilderness made it work. Wilderness is the ultimate encyclopedia,
holding, just as Nancy Newhall put it, answers to more questions
than we have yet learned how to ask.
That's the magic in you. You've got
it; let it out.