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Four Changes
Population, pollution, consumption, transformation

Gary Snyder, Mother Earth
This is the first draft of a work in progress by Gary Snyder. It arose as a by-product of the Wild West debacle, from the warmth of numerous meetings of ecological activists working up to and out of a display at Wild West. …


The Condition

Position: Man is but a part of the fabric of life – dependent of course on the whole fabric for his very existence, and also responsible to it. As the most highly developed tool-using animal, he must recognize that the evolutionary destinies (unknown) of other life forms are to be respected, and act as gentle steward of the earth’s community of being.

Situation: There are now too many human beings; and the problem is growing rapidly worse. It is potentially disastrous not only for the human race but for most other life forms.

Goal: The goal would be half of the present world population or less.


The Condition

Position: Pollution is an excess production of substances which cannot be absorbed or transmuted rapidly enough to offset their introduction, thus causing changes the cycle is not prepared for. All organisms have wastes and by-products, and these are indeed part of the total ecosystem; energy is passedalong the line and refracted in various ways, “the rainbow body.” This is cycling, not pollution.

Situation: The human race in the last century has allowed its production and dissemination of wastes, by-products and various chemical substances to become excessive. Pollution is directly harming the ecosystem. It is also ruining the environment in very direct ways for humanity itself.

Goal: Clean air, clean clear-running rivers, the Presence of Pelicans and Ospreys in our lives, unrnuddied language and good dreams.


The Condition

Position: Consumption is also a matter of balances and the problems that arise with excess. “The Wanton Boy that kills a fly shall feel the Spider’s enmity.”

Situation: Man’s use of dozens of “resources” and his total dependence on certain of them (like dependence on fossil fuels) exhausts certain presences in the biosphere with incalculable results on the other members of the network: while rendering mankind vulnerable to the consequences of the loss of major supplies. In fragile areas animals and birds have all but been extincted in pursuit of furs or feathers or fertilizer or oil: the soil is “used up” and all of this to feed outrageous excesses like war, or a phoney consumption-oriented economy.

Goal: Balance, harmony, humility, the true affluence of being a good member of the community of living creatures.


The Condition

Position: The unbalance in man’s relation to nature & his selves is partly an inherent existential question with biological and ultimate roots – birth, suffering, old age and death; and partly a cultural problem. In approaching questions of Being and Emptiness we have the wisdom traditions and some emerging sciences to help us. In transforming culture, we must augment the philosophical perceptions with a deep study of history and anthropology.

Situation: Our civilized – and probably most other – societies of the last three millenia have functioned well enough up to this point. But they no longer have survival value. They are now anti-survival.

Goal: Nothing short of total transformation will work. What we envision is a planet on which the human population lives harmoniously and dynamically by employing a sophisticated and unobtrusive technology in a world environment which is “left natural.”

(January/February 1970)
Thirty-seven years ago…

Recommended by Alex Steffen at WorldChanging.

Getting Over the Final Frontier – Part I

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book
Ok, enough of girlie subjects like breeding and feeding, on to something with heft, with manly seriousness. I refer, of course, to space, and whether or not we’ll be resolving our present crises by simply leaving earth’s wrecked shell and heading off to another, virgin planet.

I run into the notion that space is and must be our destiny fairly often, and I think even people who don’t think about it much in a conscious way have come to believe in the back of their heads that we have a future out in space. So much of our cultural vision of the future looks something like “Star Trek” that our relationship to space underlies a great deal of our imagined future. I thought it would be worth doing some writing and thinking on this subject, and I’ve divided it into two posts. The first is about the practicalities – are we going into space? And if we are, is that the answer to any or all of our present problems?
(8 August 2007)

Is Capitalism Sustainable?

John Ikerd, Small Farm Today Magazine
I realize most readers of this magazine are operators of small farms. But, some questions are simply too important to leave the economists and politicians. If our capitalistic economy is not sustainable, neither are our farms or ultimately our society or humanity…

Is capitalism sustainable? Not the type of capitalism that dominates American and most global economies today. This is not a matter of personal opinion, but a direct consequence of the most fundamental laws of science. Sustainability ultimately depends upon energy because anything that is useful in sustaining life on earth ultimately relies on energy.

…Capitalism is a very efficient system of energy extraction, but it provides no incentive to reconcentrate and restore energy to offset entropy. Capitalists have no economic incentive to invest in energy renewal for the benefit of those of future generations. Capitalists reduce waste and pollution or reuse resources only when it is profitable to do so, meaning only when it is in their individual self-interest to do so. Capitalists have incentives to use renewable energy to support current consumption, but not to re-storing energy for future generations. Capitalism inevitably tends toward physical entropy.

The law of entropy applies to social energy and well as physical energy. All forms of human energy – labor, management, innovation, creativity – are products of social relationships. Humans cannot be born, reach maturity, and become useful without the help of other people who care about them personally. People must be educated, trained, civilized, and socialized before they can become productive members of complex societies. All organizations – including business organizations, governments, and economies – depend on the ability of people to work together for a common purpose, which in turn depend upon the sociability and civility of human societies. Human productivity is a direct result of healthy personal relationships, within families, friendships, communities, and societies.

Capitalism inevitably dissipates, disperses, and disorganizes social energy because it weakens personal relationships. Maximum economic efficiency requires that people relate to each other impartially, which means impersonally. People must compete rather than cooperate, if market economies are to function efficiently. When people spend more time and energy working – being economically productive – they have less time and energy to spend on personal relationships within families and communities. When people buy things based solely on price rather than buy from people they know and trust, personal relationships within communities suffer from neglect. Capitalism devalues personal relationships and disconnects people and thus dissipates, disperses, and disorganizes social energy.

…To restore sustainability, people must make conscious, purposeful decisions to rely on renewable energy, not just for consumption, but also to rebuild stocks of natural capital for the benefit of future generations. To restore sustainability to capitalism, people must make conscious, purposeful choices to rebuild positive, mutually beneficial relationships with other people, not just for economic gains, but also to restore depleted stocks of social capital.
(May/June 2007)
John E. Ikerd is an emeritus professor of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri.

(Many) more articles by Ikerd

Contributor Greg writes:
Published in Small Farm Today Magazine (the May/June issue just came out, they are a little behind)along with an article on PO.

The really inconvenient truth – part II

Michael Fendley, Online Opinion
With ever-increasing attention to environmental crises, be they climate change, habitat destruction or drought, what has been our response? What have we done or failed to do? Why? Have we done anything meaningful? What should we do? This article – divided into two parts – seeks to answer these questions, seeks to look at the big picture – across time, cultures and ideas – of our relationship with nature in an attempt to gain some perspective on where we are and where we are heading.

Part One began with a snapshot of our current situation and went on to explore why we are struggling to achieve a good relationship with the natural world, with a particular emphasis on the difficulties posed by our biological traits and physical circumstances. Part Two – printed here – continues this search but shifts emphasis to the dominant ideas and systems governing our lives and finishes with suggestions as to how we might live better on and with this earth.


Human expansion has, of course, often been culturally as well as evolutionarily rewarding. The empires of Rome, Britain and the USA are stark examples. This appropriation of natural and human capital leads to the next major hurdle in dealing with growth: equity between cultures and the spectre of racism.

Nothing is more likely to silence the enthusiastic environmentalist than being called racist by questioning the growth and consumption of other, sometimes poorer, countries. The cry, in part justified, is that wealthy nations have done just this and benefited greatly, so why can’t the rest of humanity?

What is lost in this simple equation of two plus two equals four is that yes, Western nations have, in part, benefited from this expansion, but they have also suffered from the commensurate environmental degradation (as indeed, the entire globe has) so to repeat this behaviour would be like a son insisting on smoking because his father did.

Of course poorer nations should be able to improve their standard of living within reason, just as wealthier nations should assist with genuine redistribution of wealth and resources, but it will benefit no one simply to play a “me-too” game of expansion, consumption and ever-increasing withdrawal from an already overdrawn environmental account.

Michael Fendley has worked on environmental matters all his life and currently manages education programs and consultancies for Monash University’s Sustainability Institute. In the past he has worked for local, state and Federal governments on local conservation strategies, coastal conservation and endangered species programs respectively, taught HSC-VCE for six years, been Conservation Manager for Birds Australia, CEO of the Victorian National Parks Association, and a consultant to organisations such as Parks Victoria, Deakin University and the Murray Darling Basin Commission.
(10 August 2007)