[Joe Firmage] Winter 2000
la date: Sat, 15 Apr 2000 02:21:02 +0000
A remarkable first season
of the new year is behind us. As I sit down this
past weekend and share a few thoughts on 2000, I have little idea where to
begin. There are so many important trends and issues at work in our midst.
A Tour Through the Headlines
Of course, the 2000 presidential
campaign continues to preoccupy much of the
establishment. Now that financial immune systems of the two major parties
have filtered out candidates deemed incompatible with their interests,
Democrats and Republicans are busy in their corners attending to their prize
fighters. One is a conservative-leaning liberal with a good record of 8
years of managed change in the White House, proposing that the trajectory of
America generally should continue on present course and speed. Al Gore's
message is a good one within prevailing assumptions, and isn't likely to be
successfully challenged inside the box of 20th century thinking, as Bradley
found out. The other primary victor is an increasingly compassionate
conservative who, as the only major Presidential candidate opposed to honest
campaign finance reform, claims to be just the kind of reformer Washington
D.C. needs to clean up all those illegal Buddhist temple fundraisers. Let us
have none of that... we must keep our fund raising to cell phones, board
rooms, golf courses, and ball rooms, where it's ethical.
It's almost enough to make
millions of perfectly sane democrats and
republicans want to find McCain and scream him to his senses to MAKE
HISTORY, RUN OUTSIDE THE PARTIES. If only he wasn't such a hawk... If only
he would listen for a moment to the other less audible screams he recognizes
better than his peers -- the cries of the tens of millions killed in the
conflicts of the 20th century -- and sense that we cannot allow investments
needed for our future to be consumed, let alone produced, by the bigotries,
nationalisms, profit motives and class warfare given sanctuary within 2nd
millennium military charters. If only he recognized that several basic
factors in the political calculus underlying our military charters must be
rewritten fundamentally for a new age. From scratch. He'd have two issues
that could totally galvanize the thought leaders of a new majority.
Of course, Vice President
Gore could step up to the plate and lead these
Elsewhere, the historic visit
of Pope John Paul II to Jerusalem has struck a
chord of admiration within many of us. Though the Catholic Church, like the
Christian faith of Mormonism in which I was raised, has a sometimes-deserved
reputation for dogmatism and intolerance, one of the most widely respected
spiritual leaders on Earth is taking profound steps in the direction of
consilience. There is something undeniably moving and meaningful at work
among the great religions of our small planet. Through delicacy in
diplomacy, sincerity of entreaty, community and mature conversation, carried
by a rising tide of knowledge, we are coming to recognize the common root of
Cosmic spiritual experience from which our religions grow. With increasing
openness from Pope John Paul II, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and other
leaders of religion, the differences between faiths look increasingly like
shining facets giving a common gem value, rather than blemishes that must be
ground away in conflict. One watches with hope in view of the historic
choices facing the present generation of leaders of religions, nations,
militaries, and economies. Will they be the individuals recorded by our time
as the peacemakers, or will their successors be the ones who earn the most
sacred of honors?
Outside of strictly world
affairs, we could take a comprehensive look at our
nation's Space program, beset with criticism springing from the notion that
we can accomplish only two of the better-faster-cheaper objectives at the
same time. For lifting matter into Space using present technology, this is
so true, and thus so inadequate a total appraisal of the challenges faced by
our Space agency. I've had the pleasure of visiting NASA on a few occasions,
and the people I meet share such a wonderful vision. They are sailors
working on the first primitive ships capable of leaving our Cosmic harbor.
Their assignments are specific and sometimes arcane, but their shared
mission is as pure as discovery and as eternal as curiosity -- and as vital
Our Space agency is caught
in a no-win position. NASA is the seed of a
sweeping new vision which, despite its youth, extends beyond the present
grasp of the politicians that must nourish it, while private sector
capabilities are increasingly able to fulfill present-scale assignments. One
hopes that our world's core visionaries share a growing recognition that a
vastly larger Space Program, with a different guiding hope than military
might, consumerism, or profit, is vital to the future of life on Earth. What
we need is a Space Program for humanity at peace with Cosmos, totally
engaging the social challenges we face as the sentient young stewards of our
blue-green planet. We should think of our Space Program as the brightest
little species of fish in a tide pool should think of an Ocean Program.
Continuing this line of reasoning
further toward the horizon, we could
discuss the interesting television specials recently aired by the History
Channel and The Learning Channel. Broadcast in February and March were
several documentaries which provided probing examinations of parts of the
long-ignored evidence for genuinely unidentifiable aerospatial phenomenona
in our midst. These several hours of television are immensely interesting,
conveying both the amusing delusions and some of the stunningly tangible
mysteries witnessed in fifty years of experience at the frontier of science.
The 4-part video series specifically titled "UFOs: Then and Now?" can be
ordered from www.historychannel.com.
With last week's Time Magazine
featuring column after column concerning the
now-socially-acceptable notions of multiple Universes, worm holes, 11
dimensional string theories of everything, time travel, the beginning and
end of the Cosmos, and other mathematical wonders, and with PBS' NOVA
featuring late last year some of the world's greatest mathematical
physicists debating the implications of their equations...
... it seems reasonable that
we talk openly about the less exotic physics
theories and experiments underlying more realistic visions of future
starships. Ones that might be field-propelled by a new kind of
self-contained electromagnetic circuit, distorting the medium surrounding
the craft. Or, in other words, vessels whose propulsion systems directly
influence the medium of light we commonly call Space. Such a breakthrough
would facilitate a revolution in energy generation and all forms of
transportation, drastically reducing the human footprint on Earth, and
enabling rapid interstellar travel for you and I.
Want to know what it would
be like to take a ride in that kind of Space
Visit the American Museum
of Natural History in New York City. Combining the
distant spectacles revealed by Hubble's eye, image quality rivaling IMAX,
the wraparound sphere of the brand new Hayden Planetarium theater, the
latest computer graphics technology, and a cinematic joystick... you'll sit
back in humbled awe. It's an amazing production that reaches in and
nourishes your soul. Now THAT is the way to contemplate a trip through the
Milky Way, visiting the wonders seen only in the vastness of night, in a
vessel of the future.
But these ideas can wait for
a while, or so it seems. Other shifts in the
human trajectory would appear to be pressing prerequisites for the infinite
possibilities that may be earned by an interplanetary species, lest we
repeat the mistakes of the last Renaissance in the quest of someone else's
The Intent Of Our Forces
I was recently reacquainted
with the battle against the nuclear arms race,
in a discussion over lunch with former U.S. Senator Alan Cranston. I was
honored to meet such a wise and peaceful man, with an intellect made rugged
and sharp in his years of service to our nation and planet. His cause is one
my family has long shared: the complete abolition of nuclear weapons. The
materials Alan shared with me are part of a historic debate. His own writing
for the San Francisco Examiner on November 16, 1999, presents the overall
"Shortly after atomic bombs
fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I met Albert
Einstein. He warned if the bomb were developed further, and ever used
all-out, the human race could be exterminated. The bomb has been developed
further. One super bomb could now let loose more destructive energy than
*all* that has been released from *all* weapons fired in *all* wars in *all*
history [emphasis in original]. The power of self-extinction is now in our
"The leaders responsible for
America's defense warn that the only
significant threat today to the security and survival of the U.S. is nuclear
proliferation. Their Alice in Wonderland position seems to be that the
danger lies in nations that do not possess nuclear weapons, not in those
"Actually, nuclear weapons
beget nuclear weapons. The threat of a Hitler
bomb begot the American bomb. The American bomb begot the Soviet arsenal.
The U.S. and Soviet arsenals led to the British, French and Chinese
arsenals. These led to bombs of Israel, India and Pakistan. What next?
"It is more likely now than
it was during the stable days of the Cold War
that weapons of mass destruction will be used. Former Secretary of Defense
William Perry says, 'It isn't a question of whether, but of where and when.'
General Charles Horner, who commanded Allied Air Forces in the Gulf War,
says he expects that a nuclear weapon will be exploded in some city in the
next 10 years. Former Ambassador Robert Galluci, who negotiated on nuclear
weapons with Iraq and North Korea, agrees and predicts it will be an
American city. Galluci described how it could happen: 'One of these (rogue)
governments fabricates a couple of nuclear weapons and gives them to a
terrorist group created for this purpose. The group brings one of these
bombs into Baltimore by boat, and drives another one up to Pittsburg. Then
the message comes to the White House. 'Adjust your policy in the Middle
East, or on Tuesday you will lose Baltimore, and Wednesday you lose
Pittsburg.' Tuesday comes, and we lose Baltimore. What does the U.S. do?'"
The former Senator has formed
the Global Security Institute, dedicated to
the cause of the abolition of nuclear weapons, and the support he has
assembled stunned and encouraged me. "In 1996, the [Institute] organized the
preparation and public release of an abolition statement by 63 generals and
admirals from the United States, Russia, and 15 other nations. A second
statement signed by 131 international civilian leaders from 49 countries --
including 52 past or present presidents and prime ministers -- was...made
public at the National Press Club in 1998 by General Lee Butler, former
Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Command." The Strategic Command owns
responsibility for our nation's nuclear weapons arsenal. General Butler's
comments are historic:
"It is distressingly evident
that for many people, nuclear weapons retain an
aura of utility, of primacy and of legitimacy that justifies their existence
well into the future, in some number, however small. The persistence of this
view, which is perfectly reflected in the recently announced modification of
U.S. nuclear weapons policy, lies at the core of the concern that moves me
so deeply. This abiding faith in nuclear weapons was inspired and is
sustained by a catechism instilled over many decades by a priesthood who
speak with great assurance and authority. I was for many years among the
most avid of these keepers of the faith in nuclear weapons, and for that I
make no apology. Like my contemporaries, I was moved by fears and fired by
beliefs that date back to the earliest days of the atomic era. We lived
through a terror-ridden epoch punctuated by crises whose resolution held
hostage the saga of humankind. For us, nuclear weapons were the savior that
brought an implacable foe to his knees in 1945 and held another at bay for
nearly a half-century. We believed that superior technology brought
strategic advantage, that greater numbers meant stronger security, and that
the ends of containment justified whatever means were necessary to achieve
"These are powerful, deeply
rooted beliefs. They cannot and should not be
lightly dismissed or discounted. Strong arguments can be made on their
behalf. Throughout my professional military career, I shared them, I
professed them and I put them into operational practice. And now it is my
burden to declare with all of the conviction I can muster that in my
judgment they served us extremely ill. They account for the most severe
risks and most extravagent costs of the U.S.-Soviet confrontation. They
intensified and prolonged an already acute ideological animosity. They
spawned successive generations of new and more destructive nuclear devices
and delivery systems. They gave rise to mammoth bureaucracies with
gargantuan appetites and global agendas. They incited primal emotions,
spurred zealotry and demagoguery, and set in motion forces of ungovernable
scope and power. Most importantly, these enduring beliefs, and the fears
that underlie them, perpetuate cold war policies and practices that make no
strategic sense. They continue to entail enormous costs and expose all
mankind to unconscionable dangers. I find that intolerable...
"By what authority do succeeding
generations of leaders in nuclear weapons
states usurp the power to dictate the odds of continued life on our planet?
Most urgently, why does such breathtaking audacity persist at a moment when
we should stand trembling in the face of our folly and united in our
commitment to abolish its most deadly manifestation?
"For all my years as a nuclear
strategist, operational commander and public
spokesman, I explained, justified and sustained America's massive nuclear
arsenal as a function, a necessity and a consequence of deterrence. Bound up
in this singular term, this familiar touchstone of security dating back to
antiquity, was the intellectually comforting and deceptively simple
justification for taking the most extreme risks and the expenditure of
trillions of dollars. It was our shield and by extension our sword. The
nuclear priesthood extolled its virtues, and bowed to its demands. Allies
yielded grudgingly to its dictates even while decrying its risks and costs.
We brandished it at our enemies and presumed they embraced its suicidal
corollary of mutually assured destruction. We ignored, discounted or
dismissed its flaws and cling still to the belief that it obtains in a world
whose security architecture has been wholly transformed.
"But now, I see it differently.
Not in some blinding revelation, but at the
end of a journey, in an age of deliverance from the consuming tensions of
the cold war. Now, with the evidence more clear, the risks more sharply
defined and the costs more fully understood, I see deterrence in a very
different light. Appropriated from the lexicon of conventional warfare, this
simple prescription for adequate military preparedness became in the nuclear
age a formula for unmitigated catastrophe. It was premised on a litany of
unwarrented assumptions, unprovable assertions and logical contradictions.
It suspended rational thinking about the ultimate aim of national security:
to ensure the survival of the nation... Deterrence was a dialogue of the
blind with the deaf.
"We cannot at once keep sacred
the miracle of existence and hold sacrosanct
the capacity to destroy it."
Are we comfortable to live
in a world that tolerates the creation of
machines whose sole purpose is the vaporization of cities, believing that
'we can have them but no one else'?
The answer comes from scores
of generals and admirals around the globe, thus
equally historic and more audible:
"We, military professionals,
who have devoted our lives to the national
security of our countries and our peoples, are convinced that the continuing
existence of nuclear weapons in the armories of nuclear powers, and the ever
present threat of acquisition of these weapons by others, constitutes a
peril to global peace and security and to the safety and survival of the
people we are dedicated to protect...
"Movement toward abolition
must be a responsibility shared primarily by the
declared nuclear weapons states of China, France, Russia, the United
Kingdom, and the United States; by the de facto nuclear states, India,
Israel, and Pakistan; and by major non-nuclear powers such as Germany and
Japan. All nations should move in concert toward the same goal.
"We have been presented with
a challenge of the highest possible historic
importance: the creation of a nuclear-weapons-free world. The end of the
Cold War makes it possible."
Think about these declarations, and absorb their values and their vision!
Contrast the trajectory of
these incredibly courageous, history-making
proclamations with another vision. It is the 1998 Vision Statement from the
U.S. Space Command's Long Range Plan for 2020:
"*Dominating the space dimension
of military operations to protect U.S.
interests and investment. Integrating Space Forces into warfighting
capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict* [emphasis in original]...
Space is critical to both military and economic instruments of power -- the
main sources of national strength." The plan argues that the largest-ever
investment in Space should be framed by four priorities: (1) "Control of
Space ... the ability to assure access to space, freedom of operations
within the medium of space, and an ability to deny others the use of space,
if required." (2) "Global Engagement ... focused surveillance and missile
defense with a potential ability to apply force from space, should national
policy call for such a capability." (3) "Full Force Integration ... the
integration of space forces and space-derived information with air, land and
sea forces and information." (4) "Global Partnerships [augmenting] military
space capabilities through the leveraging of civil, commercial, and
international space systems."
Now, some rightly say, "Well,
there are rogue nations and terrorists out
there. And we need to stop them." Agreed. We need to stop them.
How? What is the least invasive,
cheapest and most effective way to stop
The leaders of the U.S. Space
Command are outstanding, intelligent and
patriotic citizens with the truest of ethics. I have met several of them.
But what is the geopolitical vision for 2020 toward which individuals within
our military drive the charter of the U.S. Space Command? Are we now
seriously suggesting that the arms race be extended into Space? At the
least, the charter does not reflect the global nature of the medium it
attempts to control. At the most, it is as if Spain is declaring that access
to the Universe shall be governed by its navy.
Concerning an equally broad
question of comfort with today's
military-industrial-intelligence charters, one could speculate on the
so-called "Echelon" project -- the alleged half-century-old international
communications surveilance system -- said to be listening to billions of
phone calls and reading e-mails hunting for enemies of the state. What is
the origin and extent of that system? Would such a system fall within the
coverage area of Full Force Integration?
Will the ethics of modern
human beings require that such systems be
escalated further across Earth and into Space? Will the technomilitarization
of nations simply make it so in fits of GPS-guided geopolitical
testosterone? One would surely hope not. To whatever extent such a system is
deemed necessary, should any one nation have moral authority to run it?
Could de jure or de facto economic interests be prevented from gaining undue
influence over such a system? Rather fundamental questions deserving open
examination. These are questions for presidential candidates.
More broadly still, what is
the rationale within aging geopolitical calculus
that justifies the mission of our $1 trillion dollar-per-year
military-industrial-intelligence medusa? Whatever its justification, it
takes resources which otherwise could be devoted for environmental
preservation, human education, health, and discovery. By virtue of its
existence as chartered, it invents and gives moral blessing to ever cheaper
and more lethal force multipliers and spying machines for those with
interests to protect, hatred to avenage, or lust to satisfy. All one needs
is money to make or buy weapons of mass destruction capable of slipping
through military shields, and there's a lot of money out there. There's a
lot of Space out there.
It would seem overdue that
we compare our investment in global military
shields and swords to our investment in global social health. If there is
ever to be an era of global disarmament and reinvestment, the world's only
superpower must be willing to lead the international commitment to the
vision with uncommon unilateral courage. If Gorbachev can catalyze the
crumbling of the Iron Curtain, which president will provide a new charter
for the U.S. Department of Defense and our military industrial complex?
What if we created an international
assistance organization capable of
feeding and educating every poor human being on Earth for half of what
nations spend each year on our militaries? Might we cut warfare in half?
What if military infrastructure could be transformed over a couple of
decades in this and other peaceful directions?
Why can't we retask a trillion
dollars per year of statesmanship, sober
wisdom, youthful passion, and organizational ethic to other kinds of soaring
I found a powerful recounting
of the reasons for trying in the pages of a
book given to me two weeks ago by its editor.
Heather Newbold has just published
Life Stories, a moving collection of
essays from tireless leaders of science whose careers have been devoted to
the study and preservation of life on Earth. It is a book you should own...
I'll share with you just a
few excerpts, wishing that I could copy down
every word from every contributor...
Heather begins, "This book
is for people who want to know what is happening
to life on Earth -- and to us."
The Union of Concerned Scientists
declares, "Human beings and the natural
world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often
irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not
checked, many current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish
for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the
living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we
"We, the undersigned, senior
members of the world's scientific community,
hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our
stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required, if vast human
misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be
"Success in this global endeavor
will require a great reduction in violence
and war. Resources now devoted to the preparation and conduct of war --
amounting to over $1 trillion annually -- will be badly needed in the new
tasks and should be diverted to the new challenges....
"A new ethic is required --
a new attitude towards discharging our
responsibility for caring for ourselves and for the earth. We must recognize
the earth's limited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its
fragility. We must no longer allow it to be ravaged. This ethic must
motivate a great movement..."
George Goodwell adds, "As
a young scientist, I realized that the changes we
were creating in the structure of nature were systematic. Disturbances from
whatever source all lead to systematic biotic impoverishment: a reduction in
the structure of nature to the point where small-bodied, short-lived,
rapidly reproducing organisms prevail and large-bodied, long-lived ones
(like us) are lost. That is a general description of what happens as the
environment becomes poisoned and diminished.
"That is about where we are
at the moment. We are realizing that our overall
environment is poisoned and becoming impoverished in the process. Once that
accumulation occurs, it is substantially irreversible. The contamination of
the oceans with pesticides can never be reversed in any period of interest
to us. It is time for a revolution in our relationship to the environment.
Our interest lies in clean air, water, and land that will support not only
people but all other organisms. What is most important is to keep the normal
living systems of Earth functioning, because they are what support us all."
Elliott Norse says, "The sea
is so vast that it seems invulnerable, a
boundless cornucopia of resources for our appetites and a convenient toilet
for out wastes. But humankind is more powerful than we realize, and the
living sea is in real trouble. By applying scientific understanding about
marine biodiversity and how humans affect it, we can make better decisions.
Knowledge does not guarantee that we will do the right thing, but we will
make better decisions with it than without it.
"There is just one ocean,
the world ocean system. The Black Sea flows into
the Mediterranean, which flows into the Atlantic, which is connected to the
Arctic Ocean, and through that to the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. They
are all connected to one another through aquatic pathways. The herbicide
sprayed onto a golf course in Chicago's suburbs is washed into streams, then
the Illinois River, then the Mississippi River, which carries it into the
Gulf of Mexico, then into the Atlantic Ocean, and from there into all the
world's oceans. Not recognizing this unity, we draw political lines on maps
that have nothing to do with marine ecosystems...
"Like our political constructs,
our economic systems work against us. One
pernicious effect of a free-market economy was originally pointed out by
Colin Clark, a mathematician at the University of British Columbia. He
explained how our economic system ensures the destruction of natural
resources, including long-lived species such as whales, sea turtles, and
fishes. If you manage them for maximum sustainable yield, and they yield,
say, 3 percent per year, that is a lower return on investment than the 5
percent you might get in a bank account. Thus, it is more profitable to
liquidate them and invest the capital in something that pays a higher yield.
The game becomes 'take the money and run...'
"That reasoning helps explain
why the world's fisheries are collapsing.
Economic forces motivate fishermen to eliminate what could be a sustainable
resource, and political forces prevent regulatory agencies from regulating
them. We are liquidating our marine capital: most fish stocks are depleted,
overfished by three and a half million fishing vessels around the world.
National governments spend $125 billion dollars every year to catch $70
billion worth of rapidly declining fish... As Daniel Pauly and coauthors
noted in a landmark paper in Science last year, we are fishing farther down
food webs. That is, increasingly we are eating what we formerly used for
bait. This is eliminating the bigger fishes at higher trophic levels, such
as shark, swordfish, tuna, grouper, and cod...
"Clearcutting and trawling
are remarkably similar kinds of disturbances. Of
course, there are differences -- after all, the gear varies, and loggers
clearcut to get to the trees, not the birds and mammals living among them.
But they do disturb most of the structure-forming organisms that provide
habitat for many other species. And both of them cause a substantial
nutrient loss from the affected site. Yet the difference in area is
astounding: whereas the forest loss due to clearcutting each year is about
one hundred thousand square kilometers (the size of Indiana), the area
trawled each year is vastly larger. We calculated nearly fifteen million
square kilometers (twice the area of the contiguous United States). Even if
we overestimated, trawling is still the greatest disturbance in the sea
Paul Ehrlich says, "The world
desperately needs an overview, and the media
is not providing it. The journalistic system is breaking down. What passes
for news and comment in the media is mostly nonsense and trivia, which is
why the public dismisses it. If you turn on the news, you are likely to hear
about some celebrity who has been caught with a prostitute or killed his
wife or whatever. The network news is no longer news; it is entertainment.
Important issues are rarely discussed on the news. They are almost never
addressed even on programs that purport to examine significant matters,
where you get commentators who think they know everything and actually know
little about how the biophysical world works. The standard media gurus and
pundits are basically ignorant of what is going on in the real world.
"Current trends in consumption
and population cannot continue indefinitely.
We need to look at the scale of the enterprise relative to the ability of
life's support systems to continue in perpetuity. The scale of the human
enterprise is a product of the number of people, how much each one consumes,
and what kind of technologies are used to supply the consumption. Until
everyone comprehends that, we will not have the kind of political action we
need in order to survive."
Peter Raven says, "I am still
trying to promote a spirit of internationalism
in the Unites States, a feeling that people all over the world are connected
to us, even if we do not realize they are there. Americans feel that we
should run our own economy in our own way with our own resources and that
nothing much that happens in the rest of the world is important to us.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The United States has less than 5
percent of the world's population yet uses 25 percent of the available
resources. Among all the industrial countries, the United States is by far
the smallest donor of international development assistance per capita, among
other things. We really fear internationalism, yet our economy and our
environment are definitely international.
"Countries are so obsessed
with increasing their economies that they exploit
and consume their natural resources at the expense of their environment. Our
former undersecretary of global affairs, Timothy Wirth, said that 'the
economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment.' It is, yet we talk
about battles between the economy and environment as if they were
equivalent. Our future is completely dependent on the way we manage our
environment, yet the environment has been collapsing, becoming less and less
sustainable with every passing year. We need to make a transition into
something new, a new kind of economy that is not based on consumption but on
sustaining, recycling, and renewing what we have."
David Suzuki adds, "We are
nourished by nature, but we are so disconnected
from life that most adults do not even realize that. Living in artificial,
man-made environments makes us forget our biological nature. We think our
greatest achievement is independence from nature, but we are still as
dependent on air, water, and soil as any other living organism. It is not
technology that cleanses the air for us or manages the water cycle or gives
us food. It is the biodiversity of nature. We live in a finite world where
matter is endlessly recycled through biological action. The variety of
living things on this planet is what keeps it livable.
"The more urban our environment,
the more ignorant we are of how our world
actually works. In Toronto, if you ask someone, 'Where does your food grow?'
or 'Where does your water come from?' or 'Where does your toilet water go?'
they do not know. If you tell them that their toilet flushes into Lake
Ontario, half a kilometer from the intake pipe for their drinking water,
they are absolutely shocked...
"Trying to escape reality,
we live in an increasingly illusory world. We are
losing the ability to sense the real world. Being unaware of our biological
nature leads to being out of touch with our own bodies, as well as those of
others. We reject our animality, even though being with animals makes us
"We are part of them, just
as they are part of us. We do not end at the
edges of our bodies; we are intermixed with everything else. When you
realize that you are part of this living skin of life, it is very
comforting, because it means you have this kinship with all other living
things. When Lovelock came up with 'Gaia,' we knew it was right. It makes
sense that there is something bigger than us and that we are part of it. Our
spirituality comes from the realization that there are things beyond our
comprehension greater than us."
Martin Holdgate adds, "The
greatest need is for international vision and
inspiration. As I wrote in my book From Care to Action, human societies down
the ages have been led by visionaries rather than functionaries -- by poets
and prophets. We need to recapture a sense of vision. We need to acknowledge
not only that the world of nature is the foundation of our lives but also
that it is beautiful, wonderful, an object of reverence, and a manifestation
of what people of many faiths have seen as the divine."
James Lovelock says, "It saddens
me that few people ever see the stars at
night. Although parts of London were so dimmed by the street lights that I
could not see the sky, when I did see the stars, I was awed. The occassional
meteorite was tremendously exciting. I could not help wondering what it was
like out there and what was to be found in outer space. Of course, as a
child, I never dreamed that in the future I would actually be involved in
that kind of enterprise...
"When I first saw Gaia in
my mind, I felt what an astronaut in space must
have experienced seeing our home, Earth. I perceived Gaia as a single living
entity consisting of Earth's biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and land. Its
entirety constitutes a feedback system that creates optimal physical
conditions for life on this planet. It is a totality endowed with qualities
far beyond those of its constituent parts. It differs from other living
organisms in the way we differ from the population of living cells in our
bodies. Gaia is the largest of living systems -- it is our superorganism."
Bringing this message to a
close, I'll quote from Thomas Lovejoy's essay...
"At first, the rain forest seems almost bewilderingly simple, that is, until
you learn enough about it to be able to sense some of the difference. You do
not notice individual things as much because each thing appears to be part
of everything around it. Unlike temperate-forest plants, which grow
separately, rain forest plants grow together. Every available niche is
overflowing with living inhabitants: it is a giant green web of interlocking
"Above you, layers of life
are piled on top of each other. Shrubs, ferns,
palms, trees of differing kinds and heights hung with huge vines, laddered
lianas, and coiling creepers are intertwined together, meshed into an
endless mosiac. Plants grow on plants growing on other plants. Flowering
gardens cluster on terraced tree branches, orchids cascade in profusion,
bromeliads perch like birds on branches. Epiphytic plants clumped on bark
collect water and absorb nutrients from the air, providing homes and food
for other plants and peculiar creatures. An amazing array of organisms
resides at every level of the canopy.
"Under this living umbrella,
your senses are continually aroused. While
winds whip the canopy above, tropical thunderstorms filter through the
layered leaves, dissipating into mist in the still air below. The air is so
humid that it is permeated with organic smells. Fertile scents drift down
from above, earthy odors waft up from the moist soil. Whatever falls to the
ground is decomposed in weeks, compared to the years it takes in cooler,
"As well as being bathed in
moisture and immersed in smells, you are always
surrounded by sounds. At night sound is pervasive. In the darkness, it feels
tangible. If it does not scare you, it can be entertaining and sometimes
even amusing. The three senators I recently took there snored all night,
accompanied by frogs improvising in response. It was quite a combo swinging
in the hammocks.
"While you are living there,
you are so embedded in it that you not know its
full effect on you. Although I recognized the scientific importance of the
forest while I was working in it, I did not realize what it meant to me
personally. That moment of revelation came when I took my first bunch of
senators to the Amazon in 1989. At that point, I had not been into the
forest or to my research project for a year and a half. I was only a few
steps down the path into my favorite camp in the forest when suddenly I had
the feeling of coming home. That is when I realized the forest had come to
mean something to be on a deeper level. I belonged here."
As we approach Earth Day 2000,
I am hopeful, and optimistic, that we will
choose to awaken, finding the way that opens our hearts, lightens our
footprint and lengthens our stride.