The Gift of Nature

McClinton, Delbert., and Gary Nicholson.  “Too Much Stuff.”  ­Nasty Cat Music (BMI) ­1993

Big house, big car, back seat, full bar
Houseboat won’t float, bank won’t tote the note
Too much stuff, there’s just too much stuff
It’ll hang you up dealing with too much stuff

Hangin’ out on the couch puttin’ on the pounds
Better walk, run, jump, swim, try to hold it down
You’re eatin’ too much stuff, too much stuff
It’ll wear you down carrying around too much stuff

Hundred dollar cab ride, fogged in can’t fly
Greyhound, Amtrak, oughta boughta Cadillac
Too much stuff, too much stuff
It’ll slow you down fooling with too much stuff

Well it’s way too much, you’re never gonna get enough
You can pile it high but you’ll never be satisfied

Rent a tux, shiny shoes, backstage big smooze
Vocal group can’t sing, won awards for everything
Too much stuff, too much stuff
They just keep on going rolling in all that stuff

Got hurt, can’t work, got a lot a bills
But the policy don’t pay less I get killed
Too much stuff, too much stuff
Just my luck counting on too much stuff

Well it’s way too much, you’re never gonna get enough
You can pile it high but you’ll never be satisfied

Runningback can’t score till he gets a million more
Quarterback can’t pass, owner wants his money back
Too much stuff, too much stuff
You now you can’t get a grip when you’re slipping in all that stuff

Women every which a way messing with my mind
You know I fall in love every day three or four times
Too much stuff, too much stuff
It’ll mess you up, fooling with too much stuff

Yeah, too much stuff, too much stuff
Too much stuff, too much stuff
You never get enough ’cause there’s just too much stuff
You know you can hurt yourself fooling with too much stuff
Yeah, it’ll tear you down, fooling with all that stuff

Nicole Fox, Against the Machine.  Washington, DC:  Island Press, 2002.  ISBN 1559638605

Page xii

The followers of Ned Ludd took up weapons against the machines that were destroying their lives, but the essence of Luddism is not violence.  Far from it.  It is a respect for and a confidence in those things that make us human, with a concomitant rejection of the mechanistic approach to being that devalues our humanity.  It is a philosophy that respects tradition, intuition, spirituality, the senses, human relationships, the work of the hand, and the disorderly and unpredictable nature of reality, as opposed to a mechanistic or reductionist construct of the world.  It questions the domination of science and the elevation of efficiency to a superior value.  It rejects materiality.
The Machine, by which I mean all the agencies of order, regularity, and efficiency, whether social or technical….
Lewis Mumford, In the Name of Sanity

Page 13

Such resistance can generate open hostility for the simple reason that technophiles, or those who for whatever reason have cast their lot unwaveringly with technology, understand that the act of resisting is a quiet but determined rejection of the very principles that undergird Western culture: efficiency, industrialism, sometimes science, and usually capitalism or least commercialism, and most certainly materialism.  Registers mock all that.

Page 24

Those who swore allegiance to Ned Ludd (or King Ludd) earned themselves the name, although precisely who he was remains a mystery.  But whatever its origins, between 1811 and 1816, in the five central manufacturing counties of England – a triangle that included parts of Lancashire, Yorshire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and Leicester – organized groups of men, under the Luddite banner, raised whatever weapons they could muster, from muskets and revolvers to hatchets and blacksmith hammers, and in furious reaction to the installation of new technology that was taking their jobs and disrupting their lives, smashed certain types of mechanical looms.

Page 25

It was an uprising that frightened the establishment of the day.  Government and business leaders in the stately halls of London who were drawing up the blueprints for a new industrialism could envision quite another future for the country: one of efficient mass production of cheaper goods, enhanced trade, and greater profit.  The wants and needs of working families in the Midlands played only a small role in that vision.  These workers were to be, as perhaps they had begun to suspect, merely cogs in the machinery of the industrial revolution.  It was a role they chose to resist.

Page 27

Although many clearly saw the benefits of more efficient production and the appeal of transferring backbreaking work to inanimate gears and wheels, there were others who saw equally clearly that the order of things, and order that was not altogether unpleasant, would be forever changed.  The energy and the pace of change allowed about as much tolerance for anyone who stood in the way as the new locomotives that accompanied industrialism would have for a duck on the tracks.

Page 33

In addition to the new machines, the centralization of work would become a matter of concern as well, clearly adding to the difficulty of the workers’ situation.  Call it the mindless application of the rule of efficiency demanded by the new machines, for they required a constant source of power.  And so the factories first rose, five and six stories of brick, along the streams in the valleys.  Then, when the stream provided the power, they could be grouped in what would become larger centers of production near transportation.  Because the new plants and machines were costly, they needed to be run continuously, and the labor had to be found for that perpetual work, lit in the long winter evenings by the flicker of gaslight.  But the new machines were easier to operate.  Less strength and less skill were required.  Each machine could do the work of six or seven men.  Women and children could keep many of them going, although under brutal conditions and with lower wages.  Family life was being destroyed.  Skilled craftsmen were reduced to selling cheap goods on the street or accepting support from wives and children who labored within a pitiless system.

Page 53

To call something romantic today is, in the prevailing sense of the word, to remove it from serious consideration.  Whatever is being so described may be interesting, charming, entertaining, even desirable from the perspective of organized seduction, but it will not be important.  It will not be something that will make things run faster or more smoothly, or operate with more efficiency, or turn a larger profit.  It is apt to be considered, in at least one part of our minds, as peripheral and of small consequence.  Seldom do we stop to think how that perjorative interpretation got there, when humans incline so naturally to all that romantic is.

Page 56

We are not the people we are supposed to be.  We have not fit as cleanly and smoothly as we sometimes like to think into the world of reason and efficiency and practicality.  The advertising world knows this: All play at one time or another to these unmentionable needs for romance and fantasy and a yearning for simpler times.  And we know this.  Our attempts to live bifurcated lives, adjusting ourselves to the demands of the mechanical-technological world, feel uncomfortable precisely because the marriage between human and machine is an awkward union.

Page 71

And finally, in an age dedicated to reason, there was a turning away on the part of leading philosophers and thinkers, from the spiritual and the imaginative aspects of human life – modes of thinking that were inconvenient for the new economics.  Efficiency was cold-blooded.  Romantics were hot-blooded, inward-turning in protest, seeking to make a point about the appropriateness of human observation and interpretation; of wild, unconstrained thought that went where it went, unrestrained by artificially imposed boundaries of rationalism.

Page 73

This tactic remains as useful as ever.  To object to some technological innovation today is equally likely to invite name-calling.  “Luddite” first, and then “Romantic,” became and are used still as terms of derision, applied to anyone who values aspects of human life that don’t translate easily into efficiency or who rejects, resists, challenges, or even questions the stampede of modernism.

Page 75

Economic theory struggled to keep pace with the rapid rate of change.  In 1776 Adam Smith had written Wealth of Nations, in which he had laid out a blueprint for economic advancement.  His theory held that prosperity, which he defined as the accumulation of wealth, was most likely to be achieved by individuals pursuing their own interest without the interference of government.  The role of the state, other than arbitrating when those interests conflicted, was simple to stay out of the way.  This pursuit of individual well-being would, by increasing the nation’s wealth, ultimately benefit the entire community.  This is the “rising tide lifts all boats” theory (which would be echoed by Reaganomics in the 1980’s).  It was not yet the nineteenth-century doctrine of laissez faire but laid a credible foundation for it.
Inherent in Smith’s theory was the notion that greater efficiency translates into greater profit.  One way to produce this efficiency was to create division of labor in the manufacturing process.  An individual need not be responsible for making one product from start to finish but only for one part of the process, which he or she would repeat again and again, undoubtedly becoming more skilled and faster at that single task.  This was not an entirely new idea, but now it became linked to a particular theory.  The result would be greater production for less expenditure of time (wages) and energy.  Efficiency would be the key to economic success.

Page 85

Those who stood to benefit from the changing economic order could dismiss Carlyle as someone who wanted to stop progress or who failed to see the ultimate benefit of cheaper consumer goods, or simply as a crank.  But what Carlyle saw clearly was that employing the machine so extensively had begun to make people feel inadequate, if not useless.  Carefully cultivated skills and pride in craftsmanship became worthless as commodities, pointless luxuries in a marketplace where the machine standard was “good enough” because it was cheap.  Working life – which, whatever its attendant hardships, had been varied and interesting as people participated in the making of goods from raw material to finished product—was now a parade of endless sameness, of boring repetition that dulled and stunted the human mind.
The machine has accomplished many things, he admitted.  That was obvious to anyone.  People are better “fed, clothed, lodged.”  More things are available.  But the abundance of things was only a small part of the transformation that was under way as the industrial age picked up steam.  People had begun to think and act differently, and he identified the impact of the machine at the heart of the shift.  Machines are not human.  There is a rigidity, a uniformity, a predictability, a ruthlessness, a thoughtlessness, a complete absence of emotion in their operation.  Any yet, they get things done.  How clear it was becoming to many that people could accomplish more if only they could be more like machines and less like them selves.  It was a simple but stunning idea.  It opened a world of related ideas.  Humans should adapt—and would be the better for it—assumed those infatuated with the notion of perfectibility.
Carlyle saw the fallacy of the argument at once.  Just as machines were not humans, it was equally true that humans were not machines.  People did not operate effectively in the same ways as machines; their talents lay elsewhere.  And yet, step by incautious step, society was being recorded as if they were machines.  The attempts to effect this transformation—beyond the factory, the prison, or the school, where individuals had little or no control over their lives—were generally failures.  People were difficult to order outside controlled situations.  Yet with the efficient mechanical model before them, those in whose interests it was to see it applied to humans would keep on trying—then and now.

Page 86

When the metaphor becomes reality, Carlyle understood, when the standards of industrial efficiency replicate themselves throughout society, clothed in other garb, until our institutions and even our thoughts are mechanized, expect trouble.

Page 114

“There is no Wealth but Life.”
Page 370

34.  Ruskin, John, Selections and Essays , ed.  Frederick
Williams Roe (New York:  Scribner’s, 1918), 302
Page 371
45.  Ibid., 228
Page 121
The reality for the pioneer was that he wasn’t confronting nature as much as he was evading the complications of the society left behind without really creating a new one.  The experience was not as refreshing as it was numbing, and without the culture to relate to, it tended to extremes.
Domesticating the landscape demanded a practical, goal-oriented efficiency.  There was work to be done and little time for dreaming, utilitarianism triumphed and then translated, as the years wore on, into expediency.  The prized attributes were inventiveness and the entrepreneurial spirit.  There were few opportunities on the frontier for the leisurely contemplation of nature that Romanticism required, and the innocence of rusticity that Rousseau had imagined in the France of cultivated fields, cleared meadows, and tidy groves confronted the New World realities of simple survival.  But in New England, where a European tidiness prevailed, there were opportunities for the leisure that appreciating nature required.  It seems an almost perfect moment, when the balance between human and nature, from the European perspective, was as healthy as it is every like to be.

Page 124

THE TRAIN was far more than a simple interruption, however.  The town and the country had been separate places, both metaphorically and actually; the rural life had nothing to do with urban life.  The train would eradicate that separation. It would penetrate as nothing else could, entering the sacred landscape with aggressive force, pushing its way into virgin territory that would never again be the same.
At the same time, it could disguise its brutishness with charm.  It could drape its inconveniences with the cloak of practicality and efficiency and seduce its way into any community.  People knew, in raw terms, what they were giving up and what they were getting; it was a fair and open trade in that regard.  But only a few understood the more subtle effects of the exchange.  As Thoreau, and Carlyle before him, saw, the presence of the machine would begin to change the way individuals thought and acted.

Page 152

Yet modernism dominated intellectually.  Its triumph—at least architecturally—was aided and abetted by economic forces.  The plain, square rooms, devoid of molding and optimally functional (yet no fun at all), were, in fact, cheaper to build.  Aesthetics and efficiency had merged.  The truth—that almost no one wanted to live in the sterile coolness of a modernist interior—was not to be uttered.

Page 166

The answer from the industrial capitalist was that human values are unimportant to the goal of the maximum production at the lowest cost.  Efficiency was the premier value.  It left no room for others.  How could other values be considered in the production of goods that had to compete in the marketplace?  This was Morris’s challenge __ urgent, because the idea of division of labor was seeping from the factory floor into the rest of society as well and reshaping the way people worked and thought and lived.  In this new complex order, no one individual could be expected to comprehend the whole; each had a specific role, narrowly defined.  The notion of the “Renaissance man” would seem foolish if not impossible in a world of experts.  But the expert was, in a sense, an intellectual cripple, hobbled and tied to his or her field; incapable of participating fully or interacting with experts outside his or her precise area of specialization.  This left the ultimate control, whether it was of the process or of the bureaucracy, in the hands of managers who did not need, and were not expected, to know anything except how to manage.

Page 196

It is worthwhile to stop for a moment and consider the word conservation and what it implies.  Muir is said never to have used it.  His goal was protection or preservation.  It began out of a passion – emotional, subjective, unquantifiable, sensual, a soaring of that unlocatable body part called spirit—for the trees and the wildlife he had discovered on his solitary treks into the wilderness.  He reveled in the beauty and the splendor of the places he had seen.  And he had come to have a profound respect for every element of the landscape.  Why should a creature such as a spider simply be crushed without a second thought? The spider had a life; it didn’t deserve to be killed simply for existing—not even simply because it might pose a danger.  Nature was worthy of protection not just because it was useful in providing sustenance, or even simply for its aesthetic value; nor should it be destroyed because it was in the way, or even necessarily because it presented some danger.  It had an inherent value.  This was not a concept that many individuals, reared on the Judeo-Christian concept of “mankind’s dominion over the earth,” appreciated.  Value the spider, and the balance has shifted; on the other side of the scale, it was blasphemy.  Muir knew when to accommodate.  He learned to put into his arguments not simply the inherent values of protecting nature but the practical aspects.  Says Stephen Fox, in his book John Muir and his Legacy:  The American Conservation Movement, “What really piqued him was the wanton blasphemy of cutting down a Sequoia grove that predated the Christian era,” but he would phrase his defense of the grove in terms of its usefulness, its ability to converse rainfall and prevent erosion.  He understood that moral grounds were insufficient in the culture for which he was writing.  The influence of the efficient, profit-oriented, technological, and industrial approach was growing.  The benefit of unspoiled nature simply because one loved it was not an idea that could compete with the argument of usefulness.  The enemies of conservation demanded something more than sentiment, and the only thing that could successfully challenge the economic arguments they put forth were other economic arguments.  Could Yosemite, as it was, provide some useful or practical benefit from the human perspective?  This approach would become a standard way to frame preservation arguments.  And so the word conservation represents a compromised way of thinking because it suggests “a more prudent, more efficient use by humans,” rather than the “unjustifiable” goal of protection for its own sake.  When conservation became the acceptable term, the memory of this shift in meaning was lost, Fox argues.

Page 198

Preserving America’s wild land against the utilitarian view and its conjoined twin, economic reality, is the same battle the Luddites fought.  What those smashers of technology had wanted to preserve was not so much nature – not then, not yet—but the traditional way of life they preferred; the one that felt more comfortable and more natural, that provided pleasure and satisfaction.  They wanted to live and work in livable communities with their families around them.  The link to nature was inherent in these traditional lives.  These were not values that could be easily defended in terms of efficiency or usefulness or measurable output.  Values have always had a hard time competing with commerce and efficiency, but the battle lines were defined with the industrial revolution, and with every year the utilitarian model grew in power and credibility until its predominance was no longer questioned.  It had reshaped the argument.  And yet it was still technology that was being fought—or rather, as Jacques Ellul calls it, “the technique,” by which is meant far more than a mere machine or science, or even technology itself.  It refers, rather, to a way of thinking that goes beyond any of its various components; think of a fog of utilitarianism that can penetrate unseen, undetected, into everything we do, shaping the culture in ways that are seldom considered.  Think of the way that efficiency or division of labor or time-motion evaluations or even cost-benefit analysis began to sneak out of the factory and into parts of our lives where they had no business.  Think of the way that conservation, with its overtones of utilitarianism, became the accepted term for what Muir wanted to do, when it was, in fact, nothing like what Muir wanted to do.

Page 228

And yet the farmers and naturalists writing in the first half of the century had spent lifetimes working the soil, and who better to know whether things were actually improving or not?  Clearly they felt that many of the older ways were preferable, whatever the labor-saving advantages of the new.  The new mechanical techniques were faster and more efficient, but they took a person away from the soil, increased debt, and transformed the farmer into a technologist and a tender of machines.  “The tangible manifestations of the belief in progress are mechanization and centralization,” said Ogden, and neither one was inherently attractive.  Farming became work, as opposed to a way of life.  The farmers looking back with justified nostalgia were pointing out that traditional farming had been about more than efficiency.  They remembered the lost past with a yearning for a simpler life, with fewer material goods, no doubt, but filled with family, traditions, good food, and the pleasures of well-deserved leisure.  As had the Luddites, they were saying, with pens instead of hammers, that the machine was destroying a culture.

Page 234

The question of who demonized work is an important one, for as anyone knows, it can give great joy and be immensely satisfying when it is something one genuinely likes doing.  Not much mechanized labor today falls into that category, whether it is sitting in front of a computer or tending a machine in a factory.  If work is done only for what it achieves or what is earned by doing it, rather than for its intrinsic ability to satisfy and please, it becomes an activity demeaned by association, say the agrarians.  If the idea is then lodged in the mind that work is bad and leisure good, and that they are entities that must be kept separate, then what might be a creative and productive activity is handed over to a willing industry.  Why have a garden when agribusiness can supply your dinner?  Why raise chickens when eggs from the industrialized egg industry are so handy?  Why knit a sweater when machine knits are so much cheaper?  Why hang your clothes outside when the dryer can do this for you?  It is therefore in the interest of industry to encourage the idea of work as undesirable; to isolate it as a commodity from ordinary life so that leisure, or the machines to create leisure, can be sold.
The demonization of labor created a parallel elevation of leisure that in turn created the leisure industry.  Industrialized leisure tends to separate individuals from family, community, tradition, and culture and to impose a standardized, sanitized illusion of experience in an ersatz world—dare one mention Disney World or Carnival Cruise?  This sort of leisure was not what the agrarians had in mind.  The family together, but clustered gazing blankeyed at the pale blue light of television, is not what the agrarians had in mind either.

Page 247

Is big really better because it is more efficient?  Gene Logsdon, whose books on farming appeal as much to the nonfarmer as to the farmer, as did Louis Bromfield’s before him, points out that big is not so much about efficiency as it is about power.  Small, manageable farms can indeed compete, he says, because they are small and if they are not burdened with debt.  Current economic policies favor large-scale corporate farming—seem, in fact, to be designed to do away with family farms.  Making a go of the small holding does means ignoring present-day methods of cost accounting for what he calls pastoral economics.  Simply put, this is a different way of calculating success.

Page 249

Realistically, the difficulty with resisting the latest machinery, overloaded with unnecessary gadgetry, comes not simply from economic and social pressures to conform and compete but from the lack of an alternative.  Amish farmers have an advantage because they have created their own community support system.  When a piece of equipment breaks down, there are replacement parts available.   The Amish see little use for education beyond age sixteen but find good use for their most intelligent young people, who can apply their talents and keen minds to perfecting tools and equipment that the rest of the society ignores.  Thus, though the horse may pull the cultivator or a more complex piece of equipment is the best and most efficient it can be.  So “efficiency” is not to be entirely despised in itself but kept in its place.  Efficiency can be a helpful factor when not allowed to dictate the show.  What is crucial is to create a system in which other values—of community, family, leisure, pleasure—can be factored in.

Page 314

Diversity in human culture and experience is just as important as diversity in the natural world.  Indeed, just as plant and animal life needs no human usefulness to justify its right to exist, neither should these precious lost skills require justification.  The loss of culture and tradition and artistry is a loss to all humanity.  The handcrafted object retains that all-important imprint of humanness that is vital to remembering who and what we are.  Ye efficient production trumped everything else.  Handwork is almost exclusively reserved now for the discriminating few within an upper-income minority.
Because it was so closely linked to efficiency, speed because a highly desirable quality as well.  Improving the pace of the machine because a preoccupation of capitalism.  Change was overstimulated—that is, it began to occur at a faster pace than it would have without the driving energy of capitalism—and the rate of acceleration became artificial and unsettling.  Change proceeded at a pace that made adaptation and assimilation difficult if not impossible, thus creating a level of stress that has now become a given of developed societies.

Page 320

Observers of the new technology noted that people now lived with sources of heat, light, and communication that they could adjust without any awareness of how they worked.  These were, in truth, the new urban barbarians, possessed of a fragmented knowledge base but without any real concept of how their world operated.  Theirs was, in fact, a more profound ignorance than that of the supposed Dark Ages.  One pull of the plug and society—the great bulk of the population—risked being plunged into a deep primitivism where the average individual would be unable to meet his or her most basic physical needs.  Chicken nuggets, they would discover, do not grow on trees, and the thermostat on the wall does not generate heat.  “Society is composed of persons who cannot design, build, repair, or even operate most of the devices upon which their lives depend,” said Winner.
Hints of the new barbarianism appeared briefly in New Zealand in 1998 when the electricity in Auckland went out and could not be reestablished for weeks.  Chaos was the result:  lights failed, water didn’t flow, toilets didn’t flush, air conditioning stopped, televisions were blank, elevators didn’t work, electronically controlled doors didn’t open, cash registers and computers were useless.  Security devices didn’t work, and shopkeepers were left defending their stores themselves, sleeping in the dark with weapons.  And it went on and on.  Business couldn’t operate; people couldn’t cook, had no sanitation, couldn’t open the windows in the climate-controlled buildings, couldn’t function.  Society broke down, and the downtown became a ghost town plagued by gangs and graffiti until electric power was restored only after many attempts some six weeks later.  The system had become so complicated and interdependent that restoring it proved more challenging than anyone could have imagined.  It was a warning to the rest of the developed world that was like the whisper of a dream.  It went ignored.  We have an astonishing and irrational optimism that the systems that support this dependent life will eternally remain in place.  Call it faith.

Page 353

The question of what tools do to community is one that Schumacher had already  addressed.  What precisely is appropriate or “intermediate” technology?  Schumaacher was an economist.  What seems to have started his contemplation of technology was the problem of underdeveloped nations and the question of how developed nations could lend a hand.  The question of technology was a vital one.  Did you transfer something high-tech, train individuals, and hope that the industry would pull the rest of the county up to its standard?  Schumacher thought this unlikely.  The technology would typically employ few people, and it would be isolated in the culture, not really helpful at all.  Far better, he said, to set up intermediate technologies that were perhaps less efficient but employed more people and could be integrated into the existing culture.

              SUMMER NIGHT
                      by CLARA CATHERINE PRINCE
                                                                        

Here where the green has surrounded the lapping waters,
And filmiest gossamers spin and are misted with moonrays,
Let me find freedom!

Softly crooned melodies ring in my ears when the moon calls,
And like Lotus, my heart yearning skyward, imploring,
I seek an answer.

Is there an Eden on earth with enlivening waters?
Is there an herb which efficiently heals broken bodies?
Lotus, pray tell me!

Here, minty fragrances fill all the air of the night time,
Luring, enchanting me, breathing their healing perfection.
Pain has no part here!

Heart, hear the promise of days in the golden hereafter,
Where imperfection shall vanish and joy be eternal.
Spirit, direct me!

 

Thomas Princen, The Logic of Sufficiency, MIT Press, 2005.  ISBN 0262162326

Page 88

The problem with efficiency as a numerical ratio is that there is no formula, no rule, no general principle for choosing.  The choice of a ratio can be quite arbitrary – or, as we will see, strategic.  Consequently, the very act of choosing a ratio determines value and the distribution of value.

I may claim my farm is efficient because I get more bushels per acre.  But my neighbor claims she is more efficient because she spends less on machines per acre.  I’m highlighting the value of production volume; she’s highlighting the value of minimizing capital costs.  It is impossible to say which of us is doing better.  I may like filling my silos to the brim each year; she may like extracting another year’s life from her grandparents’ old tractor.  Both of us may be terribly efficient, given what we value.  But without further specification, neither of us can claim to be more efficient than the other.  Even if my neighbor and I both claimed our choices were means to, say, maximum profits, the efficiency ratios themselves are incommensurable.  I’m measuring volume of grain, she’s measuring a machine’s usefulness.

Page 89

Efficiency ratios are thus neither self-evident nor is their increase unambiguously “good.”  No third party can set an unambiguously precise and comparable measure.  Every choice of a ratio reflects a choice of values, a politics.  And those values do not just separate along the familiar divides of modern and traditional, new and old, fast and slow, as this farming hypothetical might suggest.  They separate along divides of time frame – short term and commercially meaningful versus long term and ecologically meaningful – and cost displacement – the ability to externalize the costs of production and consumption in time and space.

Page 90

And yet, in modern society, efficiency is equated with all that is good.  And not just good for a few but, the rhetoric has it, good for all: joint gains, gains from trade, win-win, all boats rise, jobs aplenty.  The discrepancy between the ambiguity of value distribution and the definitiveness of rhetorical claims can in part be explained by a failure to specify ratios, as well as a failure to be explicit about what is left out of those ratios.

Page 91

A pure efficiency exists only on paper.  In the real world, some people gain as others remain the same or lose.  Those others may be one’s neighbors or fellow citizens.  But with increasing environmental criticality, risk export, and responsibility evasion (chapter 2), they are people downstream and downwind or on the other side of the globe, or they are future generations….

Efficiencies thus have a “simplification bias.”  A simple, two-element ratio of concrete measures is preferred.  Numbers that express lumens per kilowatt, grain per acre, and shoes per worker catch our attention.  Scientist and lay citizen alike can understand and work with a ratio that is simple and concrete.  The language of efficiency becomes universal when simple measurables are on the table.  Immeasurables are for the clergy and the philosopher, sometimes the environmentalist.

Page 101

So in my decision to adopt the technology, I can’t know ex ante whether the narrow efficiency gain for me will be offset by the broader efficiency gains (or, better, the access gains) of others.  Once dependent on the medium, however, I have little choice.  Today’s efficiency is tomorrow’s dependency.

Page 119

Efficiency claims, for all the history or lack of history, are indeed political claims.  They may be dressed up in the language of science and technology and progress, and thus have an apolitical appearance.  But appearing apolitical is a political act.  A way of avoiding awkward trade-offs.  It is a way of advancing a narrow agenda (increased return on investment, a new building, a changed curriculum) by appearing to advocate a broad agenda.  And that broad agenda is palatable, indeed attractive, not because it represents the painstaking process of finding common ground among people of diverse interests and values, nor even because matters have been reduced to a common denominator such as money.  Rather, it is attractive because everyone sees a gain.  Efficiencies wash away the divisiveness so consensus can settle out.  Environmentalists, industrialists and politicians can fight tooth and nail about the value of a wetland or the importance of biodiversity.  But, with efficiency, they can all come together:  the environmentalist sees nature preserved when a housing developer agrees not to build on every acre.  The developer sees lower costs because excavation and utility hookups can be consolidated when houses are clustered.   Local officials see the same tax revenues with fewer government services.

It is easy to agree that the land should be protected, that climate change should be arrested, that pollution should be abated, that energy should be saved, that water should be cleaned.  And it is easy to act to improve the environment if it appears that the efficiencies are just there for the taking, like hitherto undiscovered fruit waiting to be picked.  It is quit another matter to spell out exactly where that fruit comes from, and what is forfeited by consuming it now and at this rate.  It is quite another matter to reveal what happens downstream, downwind, to reveal who benefits and who loses, and to do so over an ecologically significant period of time.

Page 120

A policy that promotes efficiencies – roadway for transport, electric bulbs for street lighting, administrative structures for medical care and retailing, recycling for waste management, and concentrated animals for intensified farming – promotes increased personal and social wealth in the here and now.  It elevates monetary values as it depreciates values associated with the long term, with the security of ecological integrity and economic well-being.

Efficiency is suspect in the first instance because the ratio is rarely made explicit.   In the second, it is suspect because ratios perceived are rarely ratios realized, because ratios proposed for all are only for some, because efficiency claims lead to the shading and distancing of costs, to deferral of impact in time and space.  Efficiency is suspect because the benefits are readily highlighted, and the costs are shaded and left for others to pick up.

 

Stilgoe, John R. Outside Lies Magic Walker Publishing, 1998, ISBN 0802713408, Pages 1 and 2

Get out now.  Not just outside, but beyond the trap of the programmed electronic age so gently closing around so many people at the end of our century.  Go outside, move deliberately, the relax, slow down, look around.  Do not jog.  Do not run.  Forget about blood pressure and arthritis, cardiovascular rejuvenation and weight reduction.  Instead pay attention to everything that abuts the rural road, the city street, the suburban boulevard.  Walk.  Stroll.  Saunter.  Ride a bike, and coast a lot.  Explore.
Abandon, even momentarily, the sleek modern technology that consumes so much time and money now, and seek out the resting place of a technology almost forgotten.  Go outside and walk a bit, long enough to forget programming, long enough to take in and record new surroundings.
Flex the mind, a little at first, then a lot.  Savor something special.  Enjoy the best-kept secret around—the ordinary, everyday landscape that rewards any explorer, that touches any explorer with magic.
The whole concatenation of wild and artificial things, the natural ecosystem as modified by people over the centuries, the built environment layered over layers, the eerie mix of sounds and smells and glimpses neither natural nor crafted—all of it is free for the taking, and for the taking in, take in more every weekend, every day, and quickly it becomes the theater that intrigues, relaxes, fascinates, seduces, and above all expands any mind focused on it.  Outside lies utterly ordinary space open to any casual explorer willing to find the extraordinary.  Outside lies unprogrammed awareness that at times becomes directed serendipity.  Outside lies magic.

 

Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice.  HarperCollins: New York, 2004.  ISBN 0060005688

Page 19

A recent series of study, titled “When Choice is Demotivating,” provide the evidence.  One study was set in a gourmet food store and upscale community where, on weekends, the owners commonly set up tables of new items.  When researchers set up a display featuring a line of exotic, high quality jams, customers who came by could taste samples, and they were given a coupon for a dollar off if they bought a jar.  In one condition of the study six varieties a jam more available for tasting.  In another, 24 varieties were available.  In either case, the entire set of 24 varieties was available for purchase.  The larger array of jams attracted more people to the table than the small array, though in both cases people tasted about the same number of jams on average.  When it came time to buying, however, a huge difference became evident.  30% of the people exposed to the small array of jams actually bought a jar; only 3% of those exposed to large array of jams did so.

In a second study, this time in the laboratory, college students were asked to value a variety of gourmet chocolates, and the guise of a marketing survey.  The students were then asked which chocolate – based on description and appearance – would they choose for themselves.  Then they tasted and rated that chocolate.  Finally, in a different room, the students were offered a small box of chocolates in lieu of cash as payment for their participation.  For one group of students, the initial array of chocolates numbered 6 and for the other, it numbered 30.  The key results of this study were that the students faced with the small array were more satisfied with their tasting than those faced with the large array.  In addition, they were four times as likely to choose chocolate rather than cash as compensation for their participation.

Page 49

Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman his colleagues have shown that what we remember about the pleasurable quality of our past experiences is almost entirely determined by two things: how the experience felt when they were at their peak (best or worst), and how they felt when they ended.  This “peak-end” rule of Kahneman’s is what we used to summarize the experience, and then we rely on that summary later to remind ourselves of how the experience felt.  The summaries in turn influenced our decisions about whether to have that experience again, and factors such as the proportion of pleasure to displeasure during the course of the experience or how long the experience lasted, have almost no influence on her memory of it.

Here’s an example.  Participants in a laboratory study were asked to listen to a pair of very loud, unpleasant noises played through headphones.  One noise lasted for eight seconds.  The other lasted 16.  The first eight seconds of the second noise were identical to the first noise,whereas the second eight seconds, while still allowed an unpleasant, were not as loud.  Later, the participants were told that they would have to listen to one of the noises again, but that they could choose which one.  Clearly the second noise is worse – the unpleasant as it lasted twice as long.  Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of people chose the second to be repeated.  Why?  Because whereas both noises were unpleasant and had the had same aversive peak, the second had a less unpleasant and, and sewers remembered as less annoying than the first.

Page 112

Most people find it extremely challenging to balance the conflicting impulses of freedom of choice on one hand and the loyalty and commitment on the other.  Each person is expected to figure out this balance individually.  Those who value freedom of choice and movement will tend to stay away from entangling relationship; those who value stability and loyalty will seek them.  Many will cobble together some mixture of these two modes of social engagement.  If we fail in establishing exactly the kinds of social relations we want, you’ll feel that we have only ourselves to blame.  And many times we will fail.

Social institutions could ease the burden on individuals by establishing constraints that, while open to transformation, could not be violated willy-nilly by each person as he chooses.  With a clearer “rules of the game” for us to live by — constraints that specify how much of life each of us should devote to ourselves and what are obligations to family, friends, and community should be – much of the onus for making these decisions would be lifted.

But the price of excepting constraints imposed by social institutions is a restriction on individual freedom.  Is it a price worth paying?  A society that allows us to answer this question individually as Artie given us an answer,four by giving people the choice, and is opted for freedom.  And a society that does not allow us to answer this question individually has also given us an answer, opting for constraints but if unrestricted freedom can impede the individual’s pursuit of what he or she values most, then it may be that some restrictions make everybody better off.  And if “constraint” sometimes affords a different kind of liberation while “freedom” affords a kind of enslavement, then people would be wise to seek out some measure of appropriate constraint.

Pages 222-2

What to do about choice?

1. Choose when to choose.

To manage the problem of excessive choice, we must decide on which choices in our lives really matter and focus our time and energy there, letting other opportunities pass us by.  But by restricting our options, we will be able to choose less and feel better….

2. Be a chooser, not a picker.

Choosers have the time to modify their goals; pickers do not.  Choosers have the time to avoid following the herd; pickers do not.  Good decisions take time and attention, and the only way we can find the needed time and attention is by choosing our spots….

  1. Satisfice more and maximize less.

Learning to accept “good enough” will simplify decision-making and increase satisfaction.  Though satisficers may often do less well than maximizer’s according to certain objective standards, nonetheless, by settling for “good enough” even when the “best” could be just around the corner, satisficers will usually feel better about the decisions they make.

  1. Think about the opportunity costs of opportunity costs.

Given that thinking about the attractiveness of unchosen options will always detract from the satisfaction derived from the chosen one, it is tempting to suggest that we forget about opportunity costs altogether, but often it is difficult or impossible to judge how good an option is except a relation to other options.  What defines a “good investment,” for example, is to a large degree at a rate of return in comparison with other investments.  There is no obvious absolute standard that we can appeal to, so some amount of reflection of opportunity cost is probably essential.

  1. Make your decisions nonreversible.

The only way to find happiness and stability in the presence of seemingly attractive and tempting options is to say, “I’m simply not going there.  I’ve made my decision about a life partner so this person’s empathy or that person’s looks really have nothing to do with me.  I’m not in the market — and the story.”

  1. Practice and “attitude of gratitude”

The research literature suggests that gratitude does not come naturally to most of us most of the time.  Usually, thinking about possible alternatives is triggered by dissatisfaction with what was chosen.  When life is not too good, we think a lot about how it could be better.  When life is going well, we tend not to think much about how it can be worse.  But with practice, we can learn to reflect on how much better things are then they might be, which will in turn make a good things in life yield even better.

  1. Regret less.

The stinging of regret (either actual or potential) colors many decisions, and sometimes influences us to avoid making decisions at all.  Although regret is often appropriate and instructive, when it becomes so pronounce that poisons or even prevents decisions we should make an effort to minimize it….

It also pays to remember just how complex life is and to realize how rare it is that any single decision, in and of itself, has a life transforming power we sometimes think.

  1. Anticipate anticipation.

When life is hard, adaptation and enables us to avoid the full brunt of hardship.  But when life is good, adaptation puts us on a “he done in treadmill,” robbing us of the full measure of satisfaction we expect from each positive experience.  We can prevent adaptation.  What we can do is develop realistic expectations about how our experiences change with time.  Our challenge is to remember that the high-quality sound system, the luxury car, and the 10,000-square-foot house won’t keep providing the pleasure they give us with first experience them.  Learning to be satisfied as pleasures turn into mere comforts will ease disappointment with adaptation when it occurs.  We can also reduce disappointment from adaptation by following the satisficer’s strategy of spending less time and energy researching and agonizing over decisions.

9. Control expectations.

Our evaluation of experience is substantially influenced by how it compares with our expectations.  So what may be the easiest route to increasing satisfaction with the results of decisions is to remove excessively high expectations about them.  This is easier said than done, especially in a world that encourages high expectations and offers so many choices that it seems only reasonable to believe that some option out there will be perfect.

  1.  Curtail social comparison

We lead the quality of our experiences by comparing ourselves to others.  The social comparison can provide useful information, it often reduces our satisfaction.  So by comparing ourselves to others last, we will be satisfied more.  “Stop paying so much attention to how others around you are doing” is easy advice to give, but harder device to follow, because the evidence of how others are doing is pervasive, because most of us seem to care a great deal about status, and finally, because access to some of the most important things in life (for example, the best colleges, the best jobs, the best houses in the best neighborhoods) is granted only to those who do better than their peers.  Nonetheless, social comparison seems a sufficiently destructive core sense of well-being that it is worthwhile to remind ourselves to do it less.  Because it is easier for a satisficer to avoid social comparison than for foreign maximizer, learning that “good enough” is good enough may automatically reduce concerned with how others are doing.

11.  Learn to love constraints

Routine decisions take so much time and attention that it becomes difficult to get through the day.  In circumstances like this, we should learn to view limits on the possibilities we face as liberating not constraining.  Society provides rules, standards, and norms for making choices, and individual experience creates habits.  By deciding to follow rule (for example, always wear a seatbelt; never drink more than two glasses of wine in one evening), we avoid having to make a deliberate decision again and again.  This kind of rule following frees up time and attention they can be devoted to thinking about choices and decisions to which rules don’t apply.

 

Ellen J. Langer.  Mindfulness.  Addison Wesley Company: 1990.  ISBN 0201523418

I don’t like the idea of a unitary subject; I preferred the play of a kaleidoscope: you give it a And the little bits of colored glass form a new pattern.

Roland Barthes, The Grain of the Voice

Will one day, at a nursing home in Connecticut, elderly residents were each given a choice of houseplants to care for and were asked to make a number of small decisions about their daily routines.  A year and a half later, not only were these people more cheerful, active, and alert in a similar group in the same institution who are not given these choices and responsibilities, but many more of them were still alive.  In fact, less than half as many of the decision-making, plant-minding residents had died as those in the other group.  This experiment, with its startling results, began over 10 years of research into the powerful effects of what my colleagues and I came to call mindfulness, and its counterpart, the equally powerful destructive state of mindlessness.

 

Jamey Smith, “Open the Windows And Let Summer In” in My Turn, Newsweek August 3, 2003

If you’re like me, you can go for days without ever breaking a sweat or even taking a breath of fresh air.

EACH YEAR, AS SPRING ROLLS into summer, I close every open window and crank up the air conditioner. Even if it’s not yet hot outside, I want that AC humming.  This year my tussle with the mini-blinds was interrupted by a thought: exactly when did we become a nation of shut-ins?

When I moved into my partner’s 1950s era house four years ago, I discovered that all but a couple of the windows had been painted shut, thus rendering them useless in letting in anything but light. Many of our friends live in a similar setting, and several commute to a work environment that is just as sealed off from the natural world. Each morning, they hop into their air-conditioned cars and drive to their air conditioned offices without breathing so much as a breath of fresh air. If they work in a building that was put up in the last 30 years or so, they can forget about opening a window.

Is this hermetic existence a bad thing? Not necessarily. There’s no denying that air conditioning has enabled millions of people like me to make comfortable homes in regions once hospitable only to snakes and tumbleweeds. Willis Carrier’s 1902 invention has been a blessing for the weak, the infirm and people who just don’t like to sweat. Even my cat seems to prefer a sunbeam on the rug to a patch of the real thing outside.

Still, I find I’m nostalgic for a time that I never knew. Were my parents better off without air conditioning? The incredulous look on their faces at the mere suggestion says no, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m missing out.

My work often takes me to libraries of local colleges, and the feeling you get when gazing down on the quad through an open window just isn’t there when you’re sitting in the airtight boxes that typify contemporary campus architecture. just as the Internet has deprived younger generations of the sensory pleasure of reading musty old books, air conditioners have deprived us of a certain sense of community. That is not to say I long to eavesdrop on my neighbors’ conversations or overhear any private moments. But it seems we’re lacking a camaraderie that existed in the days when folks of every socioeconomic stripe left the windows open or sat out on their screened porch, and in the process got to know each other a little better.

We no longer experience the momentary awareness of mortality that comes with the wail of an ambulance. We don’t hear the windborne roar from the neighborhood high-school stadium that tells us the home team is ahead, or even the clatter of the diesel engine on the next block that lets us know we have about four minutes to haul the garbage to the curb.

Unfortunately, the loss of a way of life is the least of our worries. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, levels of indoor air pollution-from sources including everyday products like cleaning supplies and air fresheners-are often two to five times higher than outdoor levels and can cause serious health problems like asthma. One major contributing factor? Lack of proper ventilation.  In a nation that uses one sixth of its electricity for air conditioning, and in which most people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors, some of us may be cooling ourselves sick.

It used to be that we could look to Europeans for inspiration. After all, they mostly went without air conditioning, and not, it seemed, because window units looked tacky jutting up against Old World stonework. No, it appeared that our Eurocousins knew something we had forgotten: to let the breeze in is to welcome life itself.

In the last several weeks a major heat wave has hit the Continent, and now even Europeans are succumbing to temptation. In Italy, citizens have so taxed dwindling electricity supplies with air conditioners and fans that the national power grid ordered power cuts for the first time in 20 years. Here in the United States, where we face a depleted supply of natural gas, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has warned that overuse of air conditioners this summer will only drive up the cost of heating our homes next winter.

And so I issue a challenge to my fellow citizens. Let us forgo the almighty AC-certainly in the spring and fall, but also on those glorious, cool summer evenings and declare our semi-independence from a luxury that most of the world manages to do without. We’ll save some energy, we’ll air out the house and who knows? We may even get to know our neighbors.

 

HOPING FOR DISASTER
    by SHERYL A. ST. GERMAIN

 

The days stretch out,
changeless, efficient
as a familiar recipe.

Your life is too sober.
You have the wary eyes
of a recovered alcoholic,
though you are not one.

Everything repeats itself but passion,
which has run out like a creek
in late summer. Your eyes widen and bag
like an owl in the morning. You ask
your reflection what do you know
that you look like this.
Your heart weakens but does not stop;
it is as if you have some flu
of the heart, or you have lost
it, the heart, somewhere.

They told you to stockpile provisions here,
in case the creek floods and you can’t get out.
So you’ve put your mother’s six cans of tomatoes
into the pantry. Her face beams from the outside
of the cans: eat me without guilt.
Your father is in the whiskey bottle
hidden behind the cans of corn that are your sister.
He is half gone, you have drunk much of him
the last nights here. And you don’t know
where your brother is, perhaps lost with your heart,
and today you have decided to build a raft
with some dead branches and twine,
you are hoping for disaster,
something huge, something to destroy
everything.

 

Blumm, Michael. “The fallacies of free market environmentalism.” Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Spring92, Vol. 15, Issue 2, p371, 19p

A number of critical assumptions of an efficiently functioning free market invariably are absent in environmental decisionmaking, such as complete information, fully internalized prices, and rational, wealth-maximizing bargaining. The pervasive failure of markets to produce reliable information about risks, costs, and benefits of alternative courses of action makes efficiency at least as unlikely in marketplace ordering of environmental resources as in public decisionmaking….

 

Soule, Michael E., and Gary Lease.  ­Reinventing Nature?­  Responses to Postmodern Deconstruction.­  D.C.:  1995 ISBN 1559633107

“Cultural Parallax in Viewing North American Habitats” Gary Paul Nabhan
Does conservation of wilderness imply excluding residents who practice traditional forms of human subsistence?  The debate over this issue is relevant to the question of the past human role in the “construction” of native ecological systems.  What is original, untrammeled nature – primitive America?  Is it pre-Columbian, implying that Native Americans walked softly and lived in harmony?  Or did they and their ancestors deforest large areas, cause the mass extinction of mammals, and change the landscape everywhere by burning?  It is clear now that Native Americans practiced extensive and intensive land management, though this evidence was often invisible to the European settlers who arrived after epidemics had erased it.  In any case, the polarized debate about aboriginal impacts obscures the complexity and diversity of old cultures in North America and ignores cultural adaptation and change.  Such local, cultural knowledge of nature in indigenous groups is rapidly being lost because the mass media expose Native American children to pan-Indian culture and a generic electronic nature.
As for “truth,” “origins,” or “essentials” beyond the “metanarratives,” the naturalist has a peculiar advantage — by attending to species who have no words and no text other than context and yet among whom there is an unspoken consensus about the contingency of life and real substructures.  A million species constantly make “assumptions” in their body language, indicating a common ground and the validity of their responses.  A thousand million pairs of eyes, antennas, and other sense organs are fixed on something beyond themselves that sustains their being, in a relationship that works.  To argue that because we interpose talk or pictures between us and this shared immanence, and that it therefore is meaningless, contradicts the testimony of life itself.  The nonhuman realm, acting as if in common knowledge of a shared quiddity, of unlike but congruent representations, tests its reality billions of times every hour.  It is the same world in which we ourselves live, experiencing it as process, structures, and meanings, interacting with the same events that the plants and other animals do.

Page 80
We cannot find in the past or present any societies that are perfect in every aspect, or examples that we can simply revive lock-stock-and-barrel from extinction; but we can find models to study and learn from.  They exist within the borders of the United States and in every part of the earth — communities that have managed to fit themselves to their places for impressively long periods of time, that are less destructive of the biota around them, that may have acquired some vital knowledge of place which we lack.  They may have not escaped the hand of time, but they have come closer than we have to adapting to it.  My own research as a historian suggests that such enduring communities have had one dominant characteristic:  they have made rules, and many of them, rules based on intimate local experience, to govern their behavior.  They have not tried to “live free” of nature or of the group; nor have they resented restraints on individual initiative or left it to each individual to decide completely how to behave.  On the contrary, they have accepted many kinds of limits on themselves and enforced them on one another.  Their methods of enforcement may not meet our modern American standards of privacy or injustice; they may not be compatible with our modern sense of strong personal rights; and certainly they can stifle creativity or originality.  But throughout history, having these rules and enforcing them vigorously seems to be a requirement for long-term ecological survival.

Page 97
Let me highlight what Sara St. Antoine and I recently learned while interviewing fifty-two children from four different cultures, all of them living in the Sonoran Desert (Nabhan and St. Antoine 1992).  Essentially we learned that with regard to knowledge about the natural world, intergenerational differences within cultures are becoming as great as the gaps between cultures.  While showing a booklet of drawings of common desert plants and animals to O’odham children and their grandparents, for example, we realized that the children knew only a third of the names for these desert organisms in their native language that their grandparents knew.  With the loss of those names, we wonder how much culturally encoded knowledge is lost as well.  With over half the two hundred native languages on this continent falling out of use at an accelerating rate, a great diversity of perspectives on the structure and value of nature are surely being lost.  And culture-specific land management practices are being lost as well.

Page 98
One driving force in this loss of knowledge about the natural world is that children today spend more time in classrooms and in front of the television than they do directly interacting with their natural surroundings.  The vast majority of the children we interviewed are now gaining most of their knowledge about other organisms vicariously: 77 percent of the Mexican children, 61 percent of the Anglo children, 60 percent of the Yaqui children, and 35  percent of the O’odham children told us they had seen more animals on television and in the movies than they had personally seen in the wild.
An even more telling measure of the lack of primary contact with their immediate nonhuman surroundings is this:  a significant portion of kids today have never gone off alone, away from human habitations, to spend more than a half hour by themselves in a “natural” setting.  None of the six Yaqui children responded that they had; nor had 58 percent of the O’odham, 53 percent of the Anglos, and 71 percent of the Mexican children.  We also found that many children today have never been involved in collecting, carrying around, or playing with the feathers, bones, butterflies, or stones they find near their homes.  Of those interviewed, 60 percent of the Yaqui children, 46 percent of the Anglos, 44 percent of the Mexicans, and 35 percent of the O’odham had never gathered such natural treasures.  Such a paucity of contact with the natural world would have been unimaginable even a century ago, but it will become the norm as more than 38 percent of the children born after the year 2000 are destined to live in cities with more than a million other inhabitants.

 

Wes Jackson, “Agriculture:  A Reversible Accident?”  Annals of Earth, Volume XX, Number 3, 2002. Page 8

From the beginning, cellular life and later among all other hierarchical levels of structure; tissues, organs, organ systems, organisms, ecosystems and the ecosphere itself, life has had to operate within the constraints of the laws of thermodynamics.  The hypothesis has a sort of corollary assumption:  Darwinian selection operates up and down the hierarchy and optimum efficiencies have been derived through integration. Stated otherwise, selection pressure is on the entire system, with all of its subsystems, including infrastructure we have yet to comprehend and, more importantly, infrastructure we will never comprehend.  Implied in the hypothesis is the assumption that ecosystems featuring minimal human impact are operating at levels that are optimal wherever they may be found across the ecological mosaic of the planet.
If it is as good as it can get in all of these ecosystems, why is photosynthesis less than two percent efficient, given the hundreds of millions of years available to produce a better solar collector? Surely, life could have come up with more efficient energy-collecting molecules.  Humans can build a better, simple, flat plate solar collector.  Maybe life is stuck with the QWERTY phenomenon, the analog of the early typewriter.  This seems too easy an out without further exploration.  Perhaps if plans actually harvested too much beyond two percent they might have run into a materials crisis, since only eighteen or so of the one hundred and five elements on the periodic chart make up life.  Those few elements are relatively common where life exists.
So what is my point? What’s my agenda? I want agriculture to act like a natural ecosystem.  I want to know what level of energy and material throughput through a natural ecosystem mimic would be sustainable.  These are bizarre considerations coming at a time when we have yet to adequately reckon with the underlying structure that has given us our so-called technological efficiencies.  The technologies are suspect because nearly all have accumulated in the industrial age.  All are dependent primarily on non-renewable, energy-rich carbon molecules to support the infrastructure that spawned.  Whether we are building photovoltaic cells or wind machines, flat plate collectors or nuclear power plants, the infrastructure standing under them is mostly sponsored by fossil fuels and soils.
A small but simple exercise may help here.  Let’s imagine determining all the energy embodied in making a street brick.  Over that brick we transport the goods and services necessary to build efficiency gadgets.  But the brick uses ecological capital and depends on cultivated capital to make it, which in turn is a consequence of civilization—very early civilization.  As already stated, civilization would not have been possible without agriculture.  Agriculture sponsored the critical number of people necessary to think up, and develop and practice brick making.  The wood for the early kilns, such as they were, cost the Earth timber and soil.  Brick streets, like all streets, need repair.  In a high-energy society only a minority of bricks need be broken or require resetting for a contractor or city manager to conclude it is not worth it.  In an exclusively sun-powered world we would use human labor to reposition the brick.  But new kiln-produced bricks would again draw down capital stock.  Far in the future we may give brick (or asphalt or concrete) street-hood low priority.

 

Gandhi, Mahatma.  The Essential Writings of Mahatma Gandhi., Raghavan Iyer, editor. New York:  1993.   ISBN 0195632087 Page 383

June 17, 1932 — I, for one, daily realize this truth from experience, that Nature provides for the needs of every living creature from moment to moment, and I also see that, voluntarily or involuntarily, knowingly or unknowingly, we violate this great law every moment of our lives.  All of us can see that, in consequence of our doing so, on the one hand large numbers suffer through over-indulgence and, on the other, countless people suffer through want.

 

Richard L. Grossman, “Wresting Governing Authority from the Corporate Class,” Annals of Earth, Volume XX, Number 3, 2002, Page 15

When we change perspectives, pull the camera back and view violent acts of the natural world on a larger community level, something happens.  Different patterns begin to reveal themselves.  Instead of seeing only death, we see a dance of life—a great round of living and dying.  Wolves, for example, are one of the top predators in the Canadian North, yet even as top predators, they only take up to thirty percent of an existing population of caribou.  There is death, but there is not holocaust.  Compare the wolves’ efficiency rate to that of a standard commercial fishing harvest, where the percentage of a particular species taken can exceed sixty percent.
There is an embrace in this predator-prey relationship.  Wolves raise their pups in the spring at the same time that caribou are raising their calves, easing off on the hunt of caribou in the process, leading to a kind of “evolutionary truce” between the two species, allowing both populations to reinvigorate themselves.  Perhaps wolves are equipped with some intuitive or instinctual sense of their reliance on the herd, and of the dangers of exhausting their major source of food.

 

Coyle, David Cushman.  ­Conservation: An American Story of Conflict and Accomplishment.­  New Jersey: Rutgers University Press 1957, Pages 56, 57 and 58

The conservation of natural resources normally becomes necessary as the population grows, for the danger of running out of raw materials grows at the same time.  Wherever people are scarce and raw resources are plentiful — as in pioneering days — the people will naturally save their own labor as much as they can at the expense of a lavish use of the local raw materials.  As the population increases and raw materials begin to grow scarce, the people finally will have to pay a high price for the preservation and increase of these valuable materials.  During the transition from the pioneer stage to the crowded stage, the more prudent citizens will begin to call for more economical management of resources and the less prudent will resist, not wanting to pay the price for something that does not seem to them to be necessary.  This difference in viewpoint necessarily leads to controversy.  The details are not so simple….

A second reason for the necessity of conservation is the development of technology that increases the demand for raw materials.  In the United States the strain on natural resources has come not only from the growth of population but also from the rise of the standard of living.  A century ago railroads and factories were demanding more and more coal and iron.  Today radios, automobiles, plastics, and other new products call for raw materials that our ancestors never knew about.  High-speed tools and jet engines require alloys of rare metals, many of them coming from far parts of the world which may not always be open to our buyers.  We depend on resources of more and more kinds and in greater quantities per person.  It is easy to say that science will find substitutes for anything that becomes scarce.  But the trend has been for science to require more different raw materials rather than fewer.

Technology not only makes conservation more necessary, it also tends to make it seem less necessary to many of the voters.  Much of our ingenuity is devoted to inventing methods for getting raw materials faster.  Where our ancestors used pick and shovel and one-horse plows, we use bulldozers and gang plows drawn by tractors that eat petroleum instead of hay.  We have invented techniques for smelting low-grade ores, so that we can use up deposits of metals that were safe from the crude mining efforts of our ancestors.  We can squeeze the orange harder and get more juice more quickly.  The effect of these new ways of getting the last drop is temporarily to make the resource plentiful, often also reducing the cost and increasing the profits of the producers.  But the end will come sooner too.  Every advance that lets us mine a leaner copper ore or sink the oil wells to a deeper level uses up some reserve that otherwise would have been left for Americans of the twenty-first century to discover.  In the meantime both producers and consumers are tempted to take for granted that the engineers can go on finding new techniques and opening up new resources forever.

During the period when resources are only beginning to be scarce a business system like our does not lend itself readily to the prudent use of resources, mainly because of the behavior of prices.

The usual trouble with prices during the wasteful period is that they are too low to pay the private operator for conservation.  Lumber prices will pay for the cost of cutting, manufacture, and distribution with a good profit as long as the companies can get virgin timber from the government at a nominal cost, but the price may not cover the cost of protecting and restoring the forest.  The farmer can grow wheat or cotton on virgin soil and make a living, with no surplus, however, to invest in terracing and grass or tree planting.  The zinc miner can afford to carry on even when prices are low provided he can “pick the eyes of the mine,” taking only the richest ore and leaving the rest perhaps to be flooded and abandoned as hopelessly unprofitable.

Barbara Kingsolver. Small Wonder. Faber and Faber Ltd: June 2002. ISBN: 0571215769  Pages 109-130, 109 and 112-13.

Lily’s Chickens

My daughter is in love. She’s only five years old, but this is real. Her beau is shorter than she is, by a wide margin, and she couldn’t care less. He has dark eyes, a loud voice, and a tendency to crow. He also has five girlfriends, but Lily doesn’t care about that, either. She loves them all: Mr. Doodle, Jess, Bess, Mrs. Zebra, Pixie, and Kiwi. They’re chickens. Lily likes to sit on an overturned bucket and sing to them in the afternoons. She has them eating out of her hand….

With the coop built and chickens installed, all we had to do now was wait for our flock to pass through puberty and begin to give us our daily eggs. We were warned it might take a while because they would be upset by the move and would need time for emotional adjustment. I was skeptical about this putative pain and suffering; it is hard to put much stock in the emotional life of a creature with the I.Q. of an eggplant. Seems to me you put a chicken in a box, and she looks around and says, “Gee, life is a box.” You take her out, she looks around and says, “Gee, it’s sunny here.” But sure enough, they took their time. Lily began each day with high hopes, marching out to the coop with cup of corn in one hand and my twenty-year-old wire egg-basket in the other. She insisted that her dad build five nest boxes in case they all suddenly got the urge at once. She fluffed up the straw in all five nests, nervous as a bride preparing her boudoir.

I was looking forward to the eggs, too. To anyone who has eaten an egg just a few hours’ remove from the hen, those white ones in the store have the charisma of day-old bread. I looked forward to organizing my family’s meals around the pleasures of quiches, Spanish tortillas, and souffles, with a cupboard that never goes bare. We don’t go to the grocery very often; our garden produces a good deal of what we eat, and in some seasons nearly all of it. This is not exactly a hobby. It’s more along the lines of religion, something we believe in the way families believe in patriotism and loving thy neighbor as thyself.  If our food ethic seems an unusual orthodoxy set alongside those other two, it probably shouldn’t.  We consider them to be connected.

Globally speaking, I belong to the 20 percent of the world’s population-and chances are you do, too-that uses 67 percent of the planet’s resources and generates 75 percent of its pollution and waste. This doesn’t make me proud. U.S. citizens by ourselves, comprising just 5 percent of the world’s people, use a quarter of its fuels. An average American gobbles up the goods that would support thirty citizens of India. Much of the money we pay for our fuels goes to support regimes that treat their people-particularly their women-in ways that make me shudder. I’m a critic of this shameful contract, and of wasteful consumption, on general principles. Since it’s nonsensical, plus embarrassing, to be an outspoken critic of things you do yourself, I set myself long ago to the task of consuming less. I never got to India, but in various stages of my free-wheeling youth I tried out living in a tent, in a commune, and in Europe, before eventually determining that I could only ever hope to dent the salacious appetites of my homeland and make us a more perfect union by living inside this amazing beast, poking at its belly from the inside with my one little life and the small, pointed sword of my pen. So this is where I feed my family and try to live lightly on the land.

 

Bo Lozoff, Utne Reader, September-October 1996, Page 43

We’re like a child standing in a beautiful park with his eyes shut tight.  We don’t need to imagine trees, flowers, deer, birds, and sky; we merely need to open our eyes and realize what is already here, who we really are—as soon as we quit pretending we’re small or unholy.  My practice of quitting has already led me to experience the truth of this, so I’ve become a more and more devoted quitter.

 

Worster, Donald  “Nature and the Disorder of History” Soule, Michael E., and Gary Lease.  ­Reinventing Nature?­  Responses to Postmodern Deconstruction.­  D.C.:  1995 ISBN 1559633107 Page 65

Attitudes about nature and the environment change.  But contrary to the belief of many contemporary postmodern historians, whose excessive relativism may distort reality, change may not be the most important metaphysical principle.   Still, disorderly change is the fashion of the day.  Just as in ecology, where the Victorian paradigm of stability, equilibrium, and order has been superseded by a paradigm of disturbance and disorder, the contemporary historian’s view of human society rejects the notions of normality, equilibrium, progress, and all value judgments; it is fixated on disorder.  As Marx said:  “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.”  Because modern historicism leads either to cynicism or to banality, it could be described as a degenerate worldview.  A less extreme interpretation of contemporary history and ecology might stress two principles:  one is social and biological interdependence; the other is successful adaptation to situation and place by human groups and species.  Change is not a good in itself.  But preserving a diversity of change, not freezing nature, ought to stand high in our system of values.

Oral History Saves Island From Tsunami

By MARGIE MASON February 28, 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS

SIMEULUE ISLAND, Indonesia (AP) –
The ground shook so hard, people couldn’t stand up when the massive earthquake rattled this remote Indonesian island – the closest inhabited land to the epicenter of the devastating temblor.
But unlike hundreds of thousands of others who thought the worst was over when the shuddering stopped, the islanders remembered their grandparents’ warnings and fled to higher ground in fear of giant waves known locally as “semong.”
Within 30 minutes, Simeulue became the first coastline in the world to experience the awesome force of the Dec. 26 tsunami. But only seven of the island’s 75,000 people died – saved by the stories passed down over the generations.
“After the earthquake, I looked for the water to suck out,” said Kiro, 50, who like many Indonesians uses one name. “I remember the story of the ‘semong’ and I ran to the hill.”
Simeulue’s northern coast is about 40 miles from the spot where the magnitude 9.0 earthquake shifted the ocean floor along a fault line west of Sumatra Island with enough force to send waves racing across the Indian Ocean.
Waves as high as 33 feet smacked ashore here, but most people had fled because of the stories about the “semong” that killed thousands in 1907.
“Everyone ran to the hills,” said Randa Wilkinson of the aid agency Save the Children. “They took bicycles and motorbikes and wheelbarrows and piled the kids in whatever they could get them in.”
Suhardin, 33, said that when the quake struck he didn’t think about his grandmother’s stories about the 1907 disaster because nothing happened when another big temblor shook the island three years ago. It was only when a man from another village ran past shouting “Semong! Semong!” that Suhardin and others from Laayon village fled.
“We were just thinking that God was doing this,” he said. “This is because God is angry.”
The power of the waves is visible all along Simeulue’s picturesque coast: Huge cracks and gashes scar the remains of thick concrete walls that once supported village mosques, bridges lie crumbled in streams running to the ocean and deep fissures split roadways.
The island’s northern shore took a direct hit from the waves, which left little standing. Along the western shore, the tsunami spared some villages and destroyed others, leaving a path of snapped palm trees, flattened houses and power poles dangling over roads.
The earthquake tipped the island up 4 feet on one side, exposing rugged blocks of coral reef along parts of the northern coast, said Taufik, an Indonesian official who surveyed the island for the government’s meteorological and geophysical agency. Palm trees that once shaded white-sand beaches are now partially submerged on the southern end of the island, which sank 12 inches.
“You can’t imagine this and only seven people died,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
He agreed the island’s oral history saved countless lives, but noted its lush hills are close to the coast, allowing people to get to safety. In many other places with broader coastal plains, people had few places to run.
But tsunamis are rare in the Indian Ocean and many people in the dozen countries hit by the waves did not know about their potential to swallow tens of thousands of lives in seconds. When the inrushing waves sucked shallow coastal waters out to sea, many people stood on beaches watching or collecting fish flopping on the sand instead of fleeing.
On Simeulue’s western coast, survivors stood helplessly on hillsides looking down on the wall of water sweeping entire villages out to sea.
“We watched what we had – everything – was gone,” said Sukirno, 50. “We stayed in the hills for one week because we were scared.”
Some are so traumatized they have gathered planks of wood and built shanties along a road high on a hill overlooking what is left of their seaside village. As aftershocks continue – some registering magnitude 6.0 – they say they are in no hurry to return to the lowlands.
But many people have begun rebuilding along the shore, starting with crude wooden shacks on what is left of concrete foundations.
They say they will pass the story of the semong down to future generations, even if another disaster never happens.
“I don’t want to see a lot of people die,” said Siti Marwani, 25, balancing a child on her hip. “I have to talk about it with my grandchildren.”

 

Wright, Charles.  Chickamauga. Canada: HarperCollins  1995, ISBN 0374524815, Page 7

Desire discriminates and language discriminates:
They form no part of the essence of all things:
each word Is a failure, each object
We name and place leads us another step away from the light.
Loss is its own gain.
Its secret is emptiness.
Our images lie in the flat pools of their dark selves
Like bodies of water the tide moves.
They move as the tide moves.
Its secret is emptiness.

 

Linden, Eugene.  Affluence and Discontent.  New York: 1979.  ISBN 0670239437  Page 33

There was also a rule of thumb concerning writers.  To wit:  that the writer who stayed six months in Tahiti might finish a novel; two years, and he might write a chapter; ten years, and he wouldn’t write a line.  Both these dictums fall into the general category of decline referred to as Pacific Paralysis.

 

Brown, Lester.  “Replacing Economics with Ecology.”  Solar Today  March/April 2000,  Page 50

The market is a remarkably efficient device for allocating resources and for balancing supply and demand, but it does not respect the sustainable yield thresholds of natural systems.  In a world where demands of the economy are pressing against the limits of natural systems, relying exclusively on economic indicators to guide investment decisions is a recipe for disaster.  Historically, for example, if the supply of fish was inadequate, the price would rise, encouraging investment in additional fishing trawlers.  This market system worked well.  But today, with the fish catch already exceeding the sustainable yield of many fisheries, investing in more trawlers in response higher seafood prices will simply accelerate the collapse of fisheries.  A similar situation exists with forests, rangelands and aquifers.

 

Sachs, Wolfgang.  The Development Dictionary: ­A Guide to Knowledge as Power.   Zed Books. ­New Jersey:  1992.  ISBN 1856490432,  Page 34

In the late 1980s, concern about depleting resources and worldwide pollution reached the commanding heights of international politics.  Multilateral agencies now distribute biomass converters and design forestry programmes.  Economic summits quarrel about carbon dioxide emissions.  And scientists launch satellites into orbit in order to check on the planet’s health.  But the discourse which is rising to prominence has taken on a fundamentally biased orientation; it calls for extended management, but disregards intelligent self-limitation.  As the dangers mount, new products, procedures and programmes are invented to stave off the threatening effects of industrialism and keep the system afloat.  Capital, bureaucracy and science — the venerable trinity of Western modernization – declare themselves indispensable in the new crisis and promise to prevent the worst through better engineering, integrated planning, and more sophisticated models.  However, fuel-efficient machines, environmental risk assessment analyses, the close monitoring of natural processes and the like, well-intended as they may be, have two assumptions in common:  first, that society will always be driven to test nature to her limits, and second, that the exploitation of nature should neither be maximized nor minimized, but ought to be optimized.

 

Bernard, Ted., and Jora Young.  The Ecology of Hope.  Canada, New Society:  1997.  ISBN 0865713545 Page 193

These eight characteristics (a good working knowledge of the ecosystem; a commitment to ecosystem health; a commitment to learning; respect for all parts; a sense of place; acceptance of change; a long-term investment horizon; ability to set limits) are facets of one central notion: all life does not revolve around the human species, any more than the sun revolves around the Earth.  We human beings, though glorious in our complexity and endowed with a consciousness both profoundly inspiring and perplexing, are but one part of the global lifescape.  Lacking this understanding, we have become deeply lost.  When we begin to truly see that this new view of the cosmos is right, we will be inspired with new ideas and boundless new energy for the long journey home. And we will finally be able to navigate with grace and accuracy.

 

Roberts, Ian.  “A Short History of Walking.” Nature Medicine March 1998 Page 263
It is estimated that one in four women living to age 90 will sustain a hip fracture.  There is a linear relationship between the risk of hip fracture and bone mineral density.  In women, bone density peaks in early adulthood, remains stable until menopause and then falls.  Bone density in old age depends on peak density and rate of loss.  Physical activity both increases peak density and reduces post-menopausal loss.  The decline in walking is thought to be one of the main reasons for the doubling of hip fracture rates since the 1960s.  Since 1975, among women aged 30-59, distance walked fell by 21 percent.

 

Steven Wright
“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.”

 

David Budbill, “Bugs in a Bowl”, Poet, Vermont in Roberts, Elizabeth., and Elias Amidon.  ­Prayers For a Thousand Years.­  New York:  1999.  ISBN 006066875, Page 150

Han-shan, that great and crazy, wonder-filled
Chinese poet of a thousand years ago, said:

We’re just like bugs in a bowl.  All day
going around never leaving their bowl.

I say:  That’s right!  Every day climbing up
the steep sides, sliding back.

Over and over again.  Around and around.
Up and back down.

Sit in the bottom of the bowl, head in your hands,
cry, moan, feel sorry for yourself.
Or.  Look around.  See your fellow bugs.
Walk around.

Say, Hey, how you doin’?
Say, Nice bowl!

 

Michael Robin, Technology For The Coming Millennium Progress, Technology and Society According To Kirkpatrick Sale Page 11

But you are asking a different question now.  The answer to that is there is a moral way of living within the systems and institutions that surround us.  It is a trivial and unreverberative way of acting, but you do it because it is moral.  That is to say, I ride a bicycle in Manhattan, have a compost pile, and recycle everything that comes into the house—and very little comes into the house if I can help it.  In this existence I try to live as good a citizen on the earth that I can.  You do that, not because it is going to alter the ultimate ecological destructions that are coming.  It is not going to have any effect.  But because it is the right way to live.

 

Aldo Leopold

Quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem. Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.
 

Herman E. Daly, “Moving to a Steady-state Economy,” in Valuing the Earth:  Economics, Ecology, Ethics, ed.  Herman E Daly and Kenneth N. Townsend (Cambridge, Mass.:  MIT Press, 1993, Pages 28-9

Moreover, the so-called carrying capacity of the earth for human beings is not a scientific concept and cannot be measured by biologists.  It is an elastic notion depending on social, economic, industrial, and agricultural practices. Morality teaches us that we are rich in proportion to the number of things we can afford to let alone, that we are happier in proportion to the desires we can control rather than those we can satisfy, and that a simpler life is more worth living.  Economic growth may not be morally desirable even if it is ecologically sustainable.
Advances in technology may one by one expunge the instrumental reasons for protecting nature, leaving us only with our cultural commitments and moral intuitions.  To argue for environmental protection on utilitarian grounds—because of carrying capacity or sources raw materials and sinks for wastes—is therefore to erect only a fragile and temporary defense for the spontaneous wonder and glory of the natural world.

 

D.H. Lawrence in Earth Prayers From Around The World, edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon, NewYork:  1991 ISBN 006250746 Page 101

When we get out of the glass bottles of our ego,
and when we escape like squirrels turning in the
cages of our personality
and get into the forests again,
we shall shiver with cold and fright
but things will happen to us
so that we don’t know ourselves.

Cool, unlying life will rush in,
and passion will make our bodies taut with power,
we shall stamp our feet with new power
and old things will fall down,
we shall laugh, and institutions will curl up
like burnt paper.

 

Jeff Rubin, Why your world is about to get a whole lot smaller, Random House, New York 2009, ISBN978-1-4000-6850-0

Pages 250 – 53

Mass‑market size and standardized global commodities rein­force themselves, but at the expense of local tastes in local markets.  While globalization brought the Atlantic salmon to dinner tables around the world, it also took away local flavor and context. In a smaller world, all the things that make food worth enjoying will again become more important.

And that will be true of many things.  Local tastes and local customs, seemingly headed for extinction in the face of globaliza­tion’s onslaught, will get a last‑minute reprieve. As production returns to local roots, what is produced begins to assume more and more of a local flavor ‑perhaps not steel plants, but certainly facto­ries that make final goods that are bought by the consumer will once again begin to produce to please their local customers’ prefer­ences and tastes. As businesses make that shift, they will reconnect with their long‑forgotten and ignored local communities.

Where your factories are located won’t just be about where your labor costs rank on some global cost index. You are no longer going toe to toe with some sweatshop in East Asia producing on a massive scale for the whole world market. Instead, it will be about your ability to produce goods that are specific to local tastes and customs. Because, in a world of triple‑digit oil prices, your close proximity to those tastes and customs will be your company’s single greatest source of comparative advantage.

And if transportation and carbon costs don’t bring that factory home, it is likely to be swept back to where it came from on a rising tide of protectionism. Governments around the world, led by the US, are insisting that taxpayers’ money be spent on locally produced goods.

As government spending becomes a bigger part of the economy, its bias towards local procurement will shut imports out of more and more of the market place. And once the United States slaps “Buy American” restrictions on its economic stimulus packages, as it has already done on everything from water and sewage projects to bridge repairs, expect Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, and just about everybody else to follow suit. With the recession claiming as many as 50 million jobs around the world, according to the latest estimates from the International Labor Organization (ILO), there will be a groundswell of public pres­sure for governments to save local jobs. And that means they will soon be turning their backs on global trade and returning to their local economic roots.

One day soon, you won’t be wearing the same thing as your doppelgdnger in Tokyo. And, eventually, your house won’t look the same as every other house on the continent. The things that made your local environment distinctive will come back to the fore. In the none‑too‑distant future, the past will spring back to life.

We have already seen that the suburbs will slowly (or quickly) empty out, perhaps shrinking back to the villages they had gobbled up, which will once again be surrounded by farmland.  Before that happens, the orderly avenues and cul‑de‑sacs of suburbia will no doubt go through a wrenching transformation during which they will first be slums and then a gigantic salvage operation, as all those (increasingly scarce) building materials get put to better use rebuilding and retrofitting urban homes. In the abandoned exurb of Fort Myers, Florida, thieves are stripping air conditioners for parts and selling them as scrap metal.  Once that process has run its course, things will be built once again with local materials, rather than the uniform, prefabricated products available at big‑box home‑renovation stores around the world.

Not that there won’t be use for handymen in the small new world. I suspect we will all get a lot better at fixing things when they break rather than buying new ones. Many of us may finally come to understand how a toaster works. We will make do with things that have been patched and repaired, and things that are functional rather than beautiful. Our clothes may not be as glamorous, I am sorry to say.  But sewing is sure to make a comeback, along with gardening and cooking, though I am not sure I am ready to bet on beekeeping.

Of course, not many of us are likely to master all these forgotten skills.  How many people on the subway you take each morning would know how to grow a tomato or dam a sock (or even know what “darning” is)?  Not many.  But one of the things that emerged in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union was the strengthening of networks of friends and family.  To get through those dark days, people had to help each other out.  Hopefully, we will manage to do the same.

How all this will affect our culture is a topic for others to explore in depth, but it is bound to be a radical change. For many of us today, the local world is largely irrelevant.  Just as we no longer eat locally, we dream of spending our time elsewhere, whether for business or pleasure.  Many of us have more in common with our peers elsewhere around the world than with our neighbors next door.  That’s about to change.  As scarce oil starts to make your world smaller, you will soon be spending much more time talking to your neighbor and much less time flying around the world. And as that happens you will find yourself worrying less and less about the world’s problems and more and more about local concerns.  We will soon become far more attentive custodians of our own little worlds. And that is likely to make our neighborhoods better places to live.

 

Samdhong Rinpoche, Moral Implications Of A Global Consensus Ethics & Agenda 21, New York:  1994  ISBN 9211005264, Pages 104-107

The highest accomplishment of science and technical know-how of today lacks the comprehension of its good and bad consequences.  It is a fact that the most perfect knowledge of a thing cannot see the total effects of an action  which could be disastrous to many other beings either directly or indirectly.  It is also a fact that understanding the harmful effects of an action is often not enough of its benefits to themselves, although it must in the long run prove disastrous to themselves, even cause their effacement….

  1. The interest of all sentient beings must be considered more important than that of a particular entity, race or group of sentient beings; likewise, the interest of the global, regional, and national communities should be kept in such order of significance as in the sequence given above.  The lesser interest must be sacrificed for the larger interest.
  2. Every individual must know its own genuine needs for living a rational and reasonable life through the practice of “right Livelihood” and all must sacrifice the artificial needs which are superimposed by commercial enterprises.
  3. These actions must be genuinely taken out of love and compassion to all sentient beings with the “right view” and must not be taken from any form of selfishness with “false views.”
  4. The various religious lineages should strive hard for the unification of humanity in a common bond of love and compassion and must not divide humanity in the name of religion.

All sentient beings may be happy.