Gift of Nature Category Explained:

Nature is inefficient.

Our attempts to improve it are disastrous -- the Green Revolution, genetic modification, monoculture. For an alternative, think Amish.

I have chosen articles for this section from writers who agree with me, such as:

”After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes."

Annie Dillard,  Pilgrim At Tinker Creek
New York: 1974
ISBN 0061219800

Page 9

If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes.

Wilson, Edward Osborne,  In Search Of Nature
Washington
ISBN 1559632151

Page 57

If one of these ants were a six-foot-tall person, it would be running along those trails of pyrazine at a pace of about 3:45 minutes per mile. That’s about the current human world record. At the end of the trail, after running roughly the distance of a marathon, it would pick up a load of 300 pounds or ore and carry it home at the slightly slower pace of 4 minutes per mile. Upon reaching the nest, it would climb down through the galleries and chambers of he nest for a distance of up to one mile before depositing its leaf load.

Foster, Catherine Osgood,  Terrific Tomatoes
1975
ISBN 0878570942

Page 2

Among all the available microorganisms that inhabit soil, those that derive nitrogen from the air are especially useful. There are so many of these nitrogen-fixing and other kinds of bacteria that you can expect a billion in each gram of soil, some at rest in the spore stage and others at work getting energy from the carbohydrates, fats, or proteins of the organic matter they live on and decompose. One kind converts organic nitrogen to ammonia; another converts ammonia to nitrites; and another changes nitrites to nitrates, the form in which plants can use nitrogen.

There are also actinomycetes, occurring 15 to 20 million per gram, little organisms halfway between bacteria and fungi. They are what give newly-turned soul in the spring that fresh earthy smell.

THE NATURAL STEP NEWSLETTER - SPRING 2000 
10 Mar 2000


System Condition Four -- Technical

From a systems perspective, natural systems are inherently efficient. Unfortunately, human systems today are not. This is where people have a lot to learn from the planet. The challenge is for people to understand the local conditions and boundaries of a given environment and then to find ways to design and use the resources within that environment. Dr. George Basile, Senior Scientist at The Natural Step US, explains, "There is opportunity in system condition four for people to work with and within the system - to be efficient in the same way a tree is efficient.

A tree throws off branches and leaves, blows off water and oxygen, and finally falls flat and sprawls on the ground. Yes, it makes a huge mess, but a tree is still efficient within the system because the 'waste' it produces is used as a resource for something, or someone, else.

William Thomson,  Lord Kelvin (1824-1907)

When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind...

Howard T. Odum,  Power In Ecological Systems, Environment, Power, And Society
New York: 1971
ISBN 0471652709

Page 90

We find the efficiency of gross plant production to be about 2 percent....

Casey Walker,  “Interview with Charlene Spretnak”
Wild Duck Review, Vol. IV, No. 1
Winter 1998


We continue to take the “immense bribe” of the Megamachine,” as Lewis Mumford put it thirty years ago: the absorption of every human activity into the technological realm by seductive assurances of ever-increasing ease, power, and abundance. We seem oblivious to the dependence being created. Now that we have pocket calculators, few people master or remember basic arithmetic.

Now that we have “spell-check,” young people see no need to master spelling. Industrial arts classes, where boys and (at long last) girls learned the pride of accomplishment that comes from working with one’s hands and natural materials, have been replaced in most schools with computer labs. Many young people can push a button on a microwave oven but cannot cook at all.

Marx, Leo.  The Domination of Nature and the Redefinition of Progress.
Page 203

A culture’s belief in Progress, put differently, derives from (and refers to) that distinctively modern kind of social change made possible by acquiring from the realm of nature the unprecedented power to establish a steadily increasing domination of nature.

Macy, Joanna R., and Molly Young Brown.  Coming Back to Life Canada
1998
ISBN 086571391X

Page 39

We have studied the Earth and the cosmos, attempting to discover the essential building blocks of life that we might manipulate them into more efficient mechanisms to provide for our wants and needs. We have acted as if we could know and control the world from the outside, as if we were separate from it. We came to think of ourselves as made of better stuff than the animals and plants and rocks and water around us. And our technologies of the last centuries amplified disastrously the ecological effects of that assumption.

Marshall D. Sahlins,  Evolution And Culture
Michigan, 1960
ISBN 0472087762

Page 20

One common notion of progress can be dismissed out of hand. Most of us have a tendency to equate progress with efficiency, which is not altogether surprising because this idea is peculiarly appropriate to a competitive, free-enterprise economy. But an organism’s thermodynamic efficiency is not a measure of its general evolutionary status. By efficiency we usually mean some ratio of output to input; thus in rating a machine’s efficiency we divide the output of work by the input of energy.

Elizabeth Sawin,  “Dead Zone Economics”
The Sustainability Institute
October 1, 2002

www.sustainer.org/pubs/columns/10.01.02Swain.html
Page 1

The headline in the August 16 issue of Science magazine is ominous—“Dead Zone Grows.” To the right of the headline is a map of the Gulf of Mexico. And drawn on the map, hugging the shoreline, is an irregular green stripe. This is the Dead Zone, and area of the Gulf where oxygen levels are so low that most marine organisms—including crab and shrimp—cannot survive. A primary cause of the problem is fertilizer runoff from farms in the Mississippi River watershed. The runoff stimulates algae blooms. When the algae die, they sink to the bottom and decompose, using up oxygen in the process.

This year the Dead Zone is bigger than ever before -- 22,000 square kilometers—an area larger than New Jersey….

Sam Keen

There were fish before there were fishermen, indigo buntings before ornithologists, and a whole earth before a Whole Earth Catalog.

Havel, Vaclav.  The Art of the Impossible
New York: 1994
ISBN 0676970494


I am increasingly inclined to believe that even the term “environment,” which is inscribed on the banners of many commendable civic movements, is in its own way misguided, because it is unwittingly the product of the very anthropocentrism that has caused extensive devastation of our earth.

The word “environment” tacitly implies that whatever is not human merely envelops us and is therefore inferior to us, something we need care for only if it is in our interest to do so. I do not believe this to be the case. The world is not divided into two types of being, one superior and the other merely surrounding it. Being, nature, the universe—they are all one infinitely complex and mysterious metaorganism of which we are but a part, though a unique one.

Samuel P. Hays,  Conservation And The Gospel Of Efficiency
Massachusetts
1959

Page 127

Lord Kelvin, he declared, was once asked how water power development at Niagara Falls would affect its natural beauty; His reply was that of a true engineer: ‘What has that got to do with it? I consider it almost an international crime that so much energy has been allowed to go to waste.’”

Sut Jhally v. James Twitchell, From Stay Free!  issue #16
http://www.stayfreemagazine.org/16/twitchell_text.html

I see a great deal of advertising and commercialism as being the articulated will of consumers rather than the air pumped out by commercial interests. Let's take an example where you seem to hold all the cards. Take De Beers' diamonds campaign. What is more ridiculous than the browbeating of men into buying utterly worthless hunks of stone to make Harry Oppenheimer and his descendants wealthy?

Here's this company saying that if you want to be successful in courting women, it requires two months of your salary. Isn't this an example, from your point of view, of power from the outside compressing human freedom and desire? Yet as hideous as it is--and I think it the most hideous of advertising campaigns--there is something in it that speaks deeply to human beings in moments of high anxiety--namely, how to stabilize a frantic period of time.

Guardini, Romano.  Letters from Lake Como: Explorations in Technology and the Human race
Michigan: 1994
ISBN 0802801080

Pages 13 and 16

In the sailing ship we had a natural existence, for all the presence of mind and spirit in the situation. We had our being in a natural culture. In the modern steamer, however, we are in an artificial situation; measured by the vital elastic human limits, nature has been decisively eliminated. Once there was an order, a living space, which made possible a human existence in a specific sense. On the steamer that is no longer present. We can no longer be seafarers in the first and special sense in which seafaring is a basic form of human existence filled with its own content. The crew members of a liner are not essentially different from employees on the assembly line of a factory....

Smith, Adam  The Wealth of Nations, Book one, Chapter 1
http://www.bibliomania.com/NonFiction/Smith/Wealth/Bk1Chap01.html

To take an example, therefore, from a very trifling manufacture; but one in which the division of labour has been very often taken notice of, the trade of the pin-maker; a workman not educated to this business (which the division of labour has rendered a distinct trade), nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same division of labour has probably given occasion), could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades.

Russell, Bertrand.  “In Praise of Idleness”
1932


Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying: 'Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do.' Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told, and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached….

Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day.

Wendell Berry,  The Unsettling of America
New York
Avon Books
1977

Page 7

The terms exploitation and nurture, on the other hand, describe a division not only between persons but also within persons.... Let me outline as briefly as I can what seem to me the characteristics of these opposite kinds of mind. I conceive a strip-miner to be a model exploiter, and a model nurturer, I take the old-fashioned idea or ideal of a farmer. The exploiter is a specialist, an expert; the nurturer is not. The standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care.