EDITED BY HUGH NASH

with an introduction by David R. Brower

FRIENDS OF THE EARTH SAN FRANCISCO

 

A HANBOOK FOR A CONSERVER SOCIETY

From the Foreword . . .

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 lungs.

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.

Embrace politicians? 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 Revenue Service to encourage the public to participate in the public's political business.

*****

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 be like?

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 Action's Dirty 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 the trouble.

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 Stevenson crystallized in Geneva, July 1965, in his last speech:

 

We travel 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.


The resources 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

Berkeley, California, September 4, 1977

 

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