What kind of country do you want?
What kind of world? What kind of neighborhood on a small planet?
If you have asked yourself such questions, we think you will
like this book. If you haven't, you need it.
The kind of country
and world a growing number of people want -- will be less populace,
more decentralized, less industrial, more agrarian. Our anxiously
acquisitive consumer society will give way to a more serenely
thrifty conserver society, one which relies most on renewable
resources and least on the irreplacables. Recycling will be taken
for granted and planned obsolescence won't. Nuclear proliferation
will be viewed in retrospect as a form of temporary insanity.
We will stride confidently and lightly along the solar energy
path so ably scouted out by physicist Amory Lovins.
Restless mobility will
diminish; people will put down roots and recapture the sense
of community. Full employment will be the norm in a sustainable,
skill intensive economy, and indoor pollution where we work,
now fifty times higher than outdoors, will no longer be tolerated
(and such questions as "Would you rather risk asbestos-caused
cancer in five years or be unemployed for five years?" will
be judged felonious). Medicines role in curing disease will shrink
as preventative medicine grows and leaves less and less disease
to be cured. Corporations will no longer demand the right to
dispense cancer to you, or to scrub their pollutants with your
People will turn on
TV less and turn on their own sense more, and be better informed
of, by, an for the natural world that made them. Parks and Wilderness
Areas will be recognized as legal "persons," as corporations
and ships already are, to ensure their permanent and productive
survival. Science (and applied science, or technology) will play
more than lip service to elegant solutions; that is, solutions
that achieve desirable results with the utmost economy of means.
(As an archetypically inelegant solution, consider the agitation
for space colonization and the fascination of star wars: the
truly elegant solution is not to abandon our planet, but, using
appropriate technology, to make it increasingly habitable in
ways acceptable to it.)
Growthmania will yield
to the realization that physical growth is wholesome only during
immaturity, and that to continue such growth beyond that point
leads to malignancy or other grim devices that keep the planet
from being suffocated by surfeit. The earth will not swarm with
life, but be graced with it.
Whatever kind of country
and world people decide they want, the next question is, How
can they get it? Probably by gaining a new understanding of politics.
Politics is democracy's way of handling public business. There
is no other. We won't get the kind of country in the kind of
world we want unless people take part in the public's business.
Unless they embrace politics and people in politics.
Yes. Why not? Theirs is, in essence, an honorable calling. When
we treat it accordingly, we will deserve politicians who honor
their having been called, There is public business to be done.
We need to help the men and women who have chosen to undertake
it. And from time to time they need our help. The Conserver Society
will encourage the Internal
to encourage the public to participate in the public's political
More than four score and seven years
ago Thoreau looked beyond what our fathers had brought forth
on this continent and asks a transcendent question: What is the
use of a house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it
on? A growing number of people see that the planet is less and
less tolerable because its beauty -- and let 'beauty' epitomize
all the things that make an environment excellent and the earth
a rewarding place to live upon -- is being lost more and more
rapidly. A slow growing number of politicians see that there
will be no politics at all on a planet that becomes to degraded
to support people any longer.
Suppose that one of this growing number
of politicians is a presidential candidate and wants to appeal
to this growing constituency, to make excellence of environmental
quality in fact the campaign issue. What kind of platform
would such a candidate choose to run on? Or suppose a new political
party arose, dedicated, as Friends of the Earth is, to natural
law an order. Suppose that party dedicated itself to preserving,
restoring, and equitably using the earth and its resources, mineral
and living. And suppose it knew that if 'progress' continued
to depend upon wiping out irreplaceable resources, such progress
could not last long. Imagine, then, a party dedicating itself
to timely rethinking and corrective action. What would the platform
Questions like these occurred to us
in 1970 and we tried our hand at a voter's guide for environmental
protection. It was pretty good. But just about then environmental
books became banalized and our co-publisher wandered off into
more profitable fields. Early in 1976 we asked ourselves more
questions, better ones, and this book is the result. We hoped
at first to produce an instant book on the environmental issues
of the day, a "platform book," and to challenge candidates
in that election to state publicly which of our planks they could
stand on and which they feared they would fall between. It is
still an appealing idea. We might might have helped make the
earth's health more of an issue in 1976, and might have nudged
some candidates toward realizing that we all needed breathable
air as much as Detroit's lagging engineers needed to build their
old air-spoiling cars -- perhaps even more so. And that we needed
to stop nuclear proliferation, not by lecturing our neighbors,
but by cutting it off at the pockets, and cutting it out of any
secret desires, right here at home.
Who knows? We might conceivably have
encouraged a genuine "environmental candidate" to emerge.
Thanks to our sister organization, Les Amis de la Terre, this
did happen in France. In the United States, candidates Jerry
Brown, Jimmy Carter, and Morris Udall came close enough to keep
that contingency feasible, The League of Conservation Voters,
founded initially as part of Friends of the Earth and later separated
for legal reasons (corporations are not supposed to contribute
to political candidates), has been surprisingly successful in
giving the environment political weight. So has Environmental
Dozen approach. But no number of preliminary successes will
endure if people who know how important the environment is rest
on their oars. Or let their powder get wet, or suffer from premature
congratulation, or otherwise forget that most of the public must
understand why, how, and when before the whole society will let
a politician move to spare its environment and save itself. Being
human, environmentalists are able to falter, and do. . . .
The unraveling of the
earth's heritage can be stopped, we think, by the attitudes and
steps our contributors espouse here. People do not have to go
on being profligate with resources that are not to be renewed.
This is especially true about oil, the unique resource that pervades
present-day thinking and that made today's industrial-age euphoria
possible. They can stretch it instead, to fuel the transition
to other, enduring ways of getting along with the earth. North
American oil is but a small part of the recoverable oil left
on earth. Although we in the United States are quite capable
of using all fossil fuels before our next centennial, we have
more admirable capabilities.
We could drop out of
the lead in the race to see who can make the earth less livable
fastest. We would then have a chance of persuading Russia and
Japan, or other contenders, from thinking the old race worth
Ours was quite a binge.
We were not alone in it. The earth's people can still escape
the tensions that continuation of the binge will intensify, tensions
that threaten the survival of all we or anyone else care about
most. We cannot escape by forging on, resolutely and regardless,
driven by the unmitigated inertia of our outworn habits, until
we have forced ourselves over the brink in the "giant step
for mankind" nobody needs. When you have reached the edge
of an abyss, Alwyn Rees said in Wales, the only progressive move
you can make is to step backward. A New Zealander whose name
escapes me improved upon this retrograde advice with an alternative;
turn around, and step forward. Progress, if survival matters,
can then become a process that lets people find more joy at less
cost to their children and to the earth.
We are grateful to the
Science Council of Canada for an overdue insight: on a finite
earth a conserver society will outlast and outenjoy a consumer
society. We hope that by borrowing this books title from the
Council, we can broaden the acceptance of the Canadian concept.
Although we would like to have the Canadians share the ideas
we try to synthesize here, we must accept the responsibility
for them. Further, it is a good idea to aim at something better
than mere survival. As Ivan Illich observes, survival can take
place in jail.
So please let our how-to-do-it
be considered a roughish draft of the steps toward, and rewards
of, applying conservation conscience to many fields of human
activity: There is still an opportunity to treat the earth as
though we new we ought to do this, and we have told ourselves
that this book will help discover how.
Take it from there will
you? Tell us about the gaps that you would like to see us try
to fill in the next edition. Go even further than that: suggest
not only what, but also who, and supplement our supplementary
reading. Share your ideas with us as trustingly and hopefully
as we share ours with you. And forgive the editors, if you can,
for what they did to the unpaid authors, who were given merciless
deadlines on the theory that money for production would appear
much sooner than it did. If, because of our delay, some of their
recommendations have already been realized, credit them for their
prescience. You have it in your power to help other recommendations
come to pass, and to make this a better book next time.
What kind of a country
do you want? What kind of world? Filled with the proliferation
of the radioactive waste of the old Preempt-the-Resources Game?
Or fulfilling the hope Adlai
in Geneva, July 1965, in his last speech:
together, passengers on a little space craft, 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 work, the care and,I will say, the love we give our
fragile craft. We cannot maintain it half comfortable, half miserable;
half confident, half despairing; half slave to the ancient enemies
of mankind, 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.
that can be liberated without being exhausted are human spirit
and love, They can bring the resolution.
To preempt or to share?
You can effect the decision.
You have the gift. You can pass it on.
David R. Brower
Friends of the Earth
California, September 4, 1977