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Deep thought - June 11

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Harmony and Ecological Civilization

Fred Magdoff, Monthly Review

Beyond the Capitalist Alienation of Nature

Let me begin by making clear that I am not a philosopher nor am I well versed in Chinese cultural history. My background is in agriculture, specifically soil fertility and health, from which I have branched out into areas of ecology and ecological approaches to agriculture and society.

With that background in mind, when I consider the concept of harmony in the context of humans, their societies, and the environment I have a particular understanding of the concept. It refers to all people living together peacefully without exploitation of one person by another, each able to reach his or her full human potential, in a society in which everyone has their basic material and nonmaterial needs satisfied, feels secure, safe, happy, and fulfilled as human beings. In addition, the concept also implies harmony between people, the environment, and the other species we share the planet with. People need fully to understand, and act in such ways that indicate, that they are embedded in nature and dependent upon it—not just to obtain natural resources needed for human life, but also that their lives are made richer and protected by biodiversity and the smooth and efficient functioning of the many cycles of nature such as the water and nutrient cycles.

There is an overriding issue when considering harmony as I have briefly described it. Harmony in the world—among its people and between humans and the rest of the ecosystems—is not possible in the context of capitalism. Capitalism, a system that has been in existence for some 500 years (merchant capitalism for approximately 250 years and industrial capitalism for about 250 years)—a relatively short time in the 150,000 year history of anatomically modern humans—has shown that it fosters interpersonal relations and metabolic interactions with the earth that are detrimental to achieving a harmonious existence.
(June 2012 issue)



Commencement Address: You’re Not Special

David McCullough Jr., Boston Herald
Dr. Wong, Dr. Keough, Mrs. Novogroski, Ms. Curran, members of the board of education, family and friends of the graduates, ladies and gentlemen of the Wellesley High School class of 2012, for the privilege of speaking to you this afternoon, I am honored and grateful.

... You are not special. You are not exceptional.

Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you... you’re nothing special.

Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs. Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet. Why, maybe you’ve even had your picture in the Townsman! And now you’ve conquered high school... and, indisputably, here we all have gathered for you, the pride and joy of this fine community, the first to emerge from that magnificent new building...

But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.

... of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it... Now it’s “So what does this get me?” As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans.

... As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a Baltimore Orioles comparison. Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages. And read... read all the time... read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life. Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer; and as surely as there are commencements there are cessations, and you’ll be in no condition to enjoy the ceremony attendant to that eventuality no matter how delightful the afternoon.
(7 June 2012)
Suggested by J. Solis. He writes that the speaker is the son of author David McCullough. -BA


Population and Biodiversity: The Parable of Isle Royale

George Wuerthner, Counterpunch
Isle Royale in Lake Superior is a national park. Besides its fame as a park, Isle Royale is also famous for its wolf and moose populations. The island provides a unique experimental design of what happens when populations are permitted to grow without restraint.

The story begins with the immigration of moose to the island sometime in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Some speculate that moose swam to the island or crossed on ice in winter. No matter how they got there, they existed on the island for five decades without wolves. By the 1920s the moose population increased to more than 3000 and as a consequence of over browsing, the moose population crashed in the 1930s. The moose population languished for a while, and then began to grow again.

Just after World War II, wolves migrated to the island, most likely over the ice in winter. Wolves preyed on moose, and for a few decades, wolves and moose seems to sustain a relative equilibrium. Then in 1980, the wolf population crashed after the introduction of canine parvovirus.

Released from wolf predation, the moose population soared to new heights inflicting tremendous damage to the island’s plant communities. As before the moose population crashed with 2000 moose starving to death in one four month period! The moose population now remains at around 500 animals, far below their original high numbers due to the damage sustained by the island’s plant community as a consequence of too many moose.

There are lessons for human population in the Isle Royale example as well as other tales that could be told. Continuous population growth can lead to habitat degradation, great suffering for the dominant animal, and eventually a lowered carrying capacity due to habitat destruction.

Human populations may be like the proverbial moose population. We have been released from predators that might otherwise keep our numbers in check and somewhat sustainable. Mind you I have no wish for a major pandemic, famine, warfare or other factors that once held human numbers in check. But I do think there are plenty of signs, that humans, like the moose of Isle Royale, are degrading the carrying capacity of Planet Earth—which is, after all, the only habitable island we know of in the Universe.
(5 June 2012)



Securing natural capital and expanding equity to rescale civilization

Paul R. Ehrlich, Peter M. Kareiva & Gretchen C. Daily, Nature
biophysical terms, humanity has never been moving faster nor further from sustainability than it is now. Our increasing population size and per capita impacts are severely testing the ability of Earth to provide for peoples’ most basic needs. Awareness of these circumstances has grown tremendously, as has the sophistication of efforts to address them. But the complexity of the challenge remains daunting. We explore prospects for transformative change in three critical areas of sustainable development: achieving a sustainable population size and securing vital natural capital, both in part through reducing inequity, and strengthening the societal leadership of academia.

[Three graphs are available online]
(7 June 2012)
The article is behind a paywall.

Suggested by EB contributor Michael Lardelli who gives his favorite quote from the article,

“Given the contention associated with fertility decisions, it is amazing to see that reductions in fertility, and hence population pressure, have actually proven tractable. Many countries have achieved rapid fertility declines, with attendant social changes in equity that could potentially be spread much more widely6,7. By contrast, ever-rising consumption rates are proving extremely difficult to check.”

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