Posts Tagged ‘Paul Ehrlich’

Mutant Ideologies

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

something greather we could be tw

Something Greater We Could Be painting by Nolan Winkler

“Do not blame others for things that you have brought upon yourself.” Alexander McCall Smith

In 1968, when I was nineteen, I read The Population Bomb by Paul and Ann Ehrlich. That book and several others I read over the next few years, along with a life-changing journey through Mexico and Central America as a translator for a marine biologist, turned me into a zealous proponent of zero population growth, mass transit, organic gardening, and material minimalism.

That was fifty years ago. Since 1968, the world’s human population has more than doubled to over seven billion, the world’s automobile population (non-electric) has more than doubled to 1.2 billion, and organically grown food accounts for less than five per cent of the food grown in America. The earth’s fisheries are depleted, carbon emissions are increasing rather than decreasing, and we have an American government dedicated to undoing what little good our government did for the environment over the last forty years.

When I find myself in conversation with people who are just now becoming alarmed about climate change and the unfolding economic and environmental disasters engulfing us, I am reminded of the anger and disinterest and disingenuous lip service that greeted me for most of the last fifty years whenever I wrote about or discussed these issues and suggested ways to avoid much of what has now befallen the world. And though I am sad and disheartened about the unfolding disasters decimating human societies and life on our precious planet, I am not surprised by these disasters or the lack of substantive response to them.

My more cynical friends explain the collapse of our environment as a result of human nature. But even a cursory study of the myriad indigenous societies that existed prior to their annihilation by the forces of capitalism and overpopulation, reveals that human nature created thousands of societal systems that depended on sustaining the optimal health of the environment. And at the heart of those sustainable practices were minimal population growth and zero net pollution of the environment.

Thus I would argue that human nature is not the cause of the various crises threatening us today. I would suggest that the great threat to the continuation of life on earth was caused by mutant ideologies—capitalism and patriarchal monotheism—that destroyed those thousands of indigenous societies forming the fabric of humanity for tens of thousands of years—societies that evolved to harmonize with nature, not in opposition to it.

One of the books I’m currently reading is the beautifully written Wisdom from a Rainforest by Stuart Schlegel, a recollection of his two years of living among the Teduray of Mindanao in the 1960s.

“They had lived for untold generations in the forest—since ‘the beginning of time’ they believed—without its becoming destroyed and replaced by grassland. They carefully protected certain forest trees, which they valued for fruit or other potential gifts. They avoided overcutting bamboo stands that they considered particularly useful. Hunting, fishing, gathering were all carried out with care not to overexploit the natural resources on which human life depended. Their lives were simple, but not poor, and life was a journey, not a battle.”

Yes, Schlegel is describing a pre-industrial society, a system of living that evolved without money or cars or telephones or machines of any kind. And it is possible, I suppose, that money and machines and the changes they bring to society inevitably elicit a self-destructive response from our human natures. Maybe my cynical friends are correct, and human nature, when exposed to all the modern inconveniences, becomes a globally destructive force impossible to curtail.

I met Stuart Schlegel when I was nineteen, the same year I read The Population Bomb. He was my Anthropology professor at UC Santa Cruz, and I took two courses from him. When I was trying to decide whether to stay in college or drop out, I went to him for advice, and he was the only adult of those I consulted who suggested that a break from academia might be just the thing for me.

Reading Schlegel’s bittersweet memoir, I now understand why he gave me such counsel. He clearly felt that Western Civilization was a plague upon the earth, and he saw American academia as an extension of that same male-dominated hierarchal system that is the antithesis (and ultimately the killer) of the Teduray manifestation of human nature—egalitarian, non-competitive, regenerative, and highly cooperative.

As Schlegel writes in Wisdom from a Rainforest, “Teduray children were taught from an early age to scan their social world for what they could do to encourage and assist all other people, and they were taught most certainly never to inflict physical or spiritual injury on anyone. This commitment to mutual aid, support, and respect gave these people a quality that is almost impossible to describe, a sort of peace combined with a palpable graciousness.”

We’re In It

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

presidio medium

We’re In It  ⓒ Copyright David Jouris (Presidio Dance Theatre)

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2015)

“So make sure when you say you’re in it but not of it, you’re not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called Hell.” Stevie Wonder

We’re in it. Those thousands of articles about the coming consequences of global warming, over-population, and environmental pollution? Those consequences are here. Yes, things are going to get worse, but unprecedented climatic events are not coming sooner or later, they are here. Hundreds of millions of people are starving or about to starve. Insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers will not one day wreak havoc on the world, they are wreaking havoc now, big time. The oceans are rising and acidifying. We’re in it.

There is a drought in Brazil that we know is the direct result of humans cutting down too much of the Amazon rainforest, yet the cutting down of that rainforest continues at a frightening pace. Brazil’s agricultural sector is suffering terribly from the water shortage and Brazil is building archaic fossil fuel power plants to replace the loss of electricity from hydroelectric sources because the nation’s rivers are drying up.

NASA recently released the results of their satellite assessments of the world’s aquifers. The most depleted aquifer on earth is the one beneath California’s Central Valley, and the second most depleted aquifer is the Ganges Brahmaputra aquifer. California’s drought may last decades, and the monsoon that feeds a billion people in India and Pakistan and Bangladesh was late again this year and will provide less than the minimal amount of water needed by farmers in those badly overpopulated countries.

Scientists have also proven conclusively that the collapse of honeybee populations worldwide is caused by the use of insecticides containing neonicotinoids, yet the supranational chemical-pharmaceutical companies responsible for producing these poisons refuse to remove them from the market. With the exception of a few European nations, national governments are apparently powerless to force these poison-manufacturing corporations to do the right thing.

“No water, no life. No blue, no green.” Sylvia Earle

I went to the farmers market in Mendocino last Friday and was surprised to find local egg producers asking eight, nine, and ten dollars for a dozen eggs. This seemed exorbitant to me, so I passed. But when I went to buy eggs at Corners, where last week I was shocked to find a dozen eggs selling for six dollars, the price had risen to nearly eight dollars.

Yes, the new state law requiring bigger cages for mass-produced chickens and chickens confined for the purpose of mass producing eggs has caused an increase in egg prices, but that doesn’t explain why local free range chicken eggs have nearly doubled in price in the last year. Inquiring of a few chicken owners I know, I learned that feed prices have skyrocketed due to less production of key grains due to the ongoing drought. We’re in it, and one-dollar eggs could be the new norm, and eggs, as you know, are key ingredients in myriad foodstuffs, so…

In other local climate change news, this past winter was the first in my nine years in Mendocino when we did not have a single night of freezing weather, the lowest temperature being thirty-four degrees, with only a week or two when the temperature got below forty degrees. Oh joy, sing the millions of mosquitoes and fleas and earwigs whose eggs did not freeze to death this past winter.

Speaking of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, thousands of people have died of heat stroke there in the last couple weeks, with temperatures topping 115 degrees for several days in a row. Crops are wilting in the fields and animals are dying along with humans. We’re in it.

 “We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inward at ourselves on a small and increasingly polluted and overcrowded planet.” Stephen Hawking

So yesterday I’m coasting down the hill in my little old pickup on my way to the commercial sector of Mendocino, and I’m thinking about The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich, a book I read when it came out in 1968 and naively hoped would change the world, when a snazzy new sports car speeds up behind me and the driver starts madly revving his engine. I check my speedometer and see I’m going five miles an hour over the speed limit, this being a school zone.

I can see in my rearview mirror that this older male driver is apoplectic and wants me to pull over so he can speed by, but I’m only going a half-mile to town and I don’t want him careening recklessly through our neighborhood full of children and people walking their dogs, so I keep my speed at thirty and try to ignore the guy, but he starts swerving out into the oncoming lane as if he’s going to pass me and then zipping back in behind me and riding my bumper.

Thirty seconds later, we reach the stop light at Little Lake Road and Highway One. I am first in line at the red light with Insane Man right on my tail hysterically revving his several hundred horsepower engine. When the light turns green, Insane Man hits his horn and keeps honking as we cross Highway One and cruise into town. Now Insane Man rolls down his window, sticks his arm out and shakes his fist at me, flips the bird, and by reading his lips I determine he is saying many unkind things about me.

As fate would have it, when I turn left, Insane Man turns left. When I turn right, Insane Man turns right, and now I’m getting mad because Insane Man keeps almost crashing into me and shaking his fist at me, when all I’ve done is drive to town a little faster than usual.

I park in front of Zo, the best and only copy shop in Mendocino, and as Insane Man speeds by he screams, “Die you motherfucking scumbag!”

And by a remarkable coincidence, his words echo my wish for him.

Zero Population Growth

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2012)

“The chief cause for the impending collapse of the world—the cause sufficient in and by itself—is the enormous growth of the human population: the human flood. The worst enemy of life is too much life: the excess of human life.” Pentti Linkola

Decades ago I joined an organization called Zero Population Growth, a group founded by Paul Ehrlich dedicated to educating people and elected officials about the dire need to take political and educational action to combat overpopulation in America and around the world. I liked the name of the organization because it said clearly what we wanted to do: intentionally reduce the human birth rate so human population would begin to decline and the earth might be saved. However, some years ago during a time when Republicans controlled both Congress and the White House, funding grew scarce for organizations espousing such radical ideas as limiting population growth, and in order to survive, Zero Population Growth changed its name to Population Connection.

Did the name change help? Apparently so, because the organization lives on and continues to do valuable work. The Reporter, the magazine of Population Connection, dedicates one issue per year to an extensive Congressional Report Card wherein the battle lines are clearly drawn and readers are shown a Congress very much under the sway of ignorant morons who routinely vote against any legislation to fund or enhance family planning or birth control both here and abroad. Ignorant morons doesn’t quite do these particular hominids justice. Evil malicious poopheads would be more accurate; and it is both fascinating and sad to see that the vast majority of these EMP’s are from the South and Midwest; which is not to say that the South and Midwest are hotbeds of ignorance and misogyny and the rest of the country is enlightened, but to suggest that the South and Midwest are hotbeds of ignorance and misogyny.

Say what I will about there being little difference between the Presidential candidates on most matters of importance, Population Connection sees a huge difference between the candidates regarding freedom of choice and access to family planning, safe and legal abortion, and birth control. As stated in the most recent issue of The Reporter:

“There’s really no such thing as a low-stakes election, but it’s clear that for family planning and women’s health advocates, this one is going to be especially pivotal.”

“Over the next four years we could see as many as three new Supreme Court appointments, which could decisively settle the direction of the court for the next twenty to thirty years.”

“As high as the stakes are for women and families in this country (USA), they’re even higher for the 222 million women in the developing world who have an urgent need for contraception. The current House of Representatives has already made numerous attempts to ban U.S. funding for the United Nations Population Fund and reinstate the Global Gag Rule.”

What is the Global Gag Rule? The Global Gag Rule, created by alpha evil malicious poopheads during the reign of Ronald Reagan, ordains that nongovernmental organizations receiving U.S. government assistance cannot use that funding or funding from other sources to inform the public or educate their governments on the need to make safe abortion available, provide legal abortion services, or provide advice on where to get an abortion. Obama repealed the Global Gag Rule on January 23, 2009.

“A crowded society is a restrictive society; an overcrowded society becomes an authoritarian, repressive and murderous society.” Edward Abbey

Speaking of population, today is my birthday. I was born in San Francisco at 6:33 AM on October 17, 1949 at St. Luke’s Hospital. In that same year, my parents bought a steep hillside lot in Mill Valley and hired some out-of-work artists to build the little house where I spent the first four years of my life with my two older sisters, my parents, and a cat. The lot and house cost my parents seven thousand dollars, which they borrowed from my mother’s parents. My father commuted to San Francisco by bus and my mother walked with her little kids to and from the grocery store in the village. In those days, Mill Valley was not yet the domain of the super wealthy, but rather a haven for artists and those who wanted to live a rural life on the edge of civilization. Goodness me, how population growth has changed all that.

My parents were both born in California in 1922 when the entire population of southern California (everything from San Luis Obispo south, including Los Angeles and San Diego) was less than 150,000 people. Today there are roughly twenty-five million people in southern California. When I was a boy, the Santa Clara Valley, now known as Silicon Valley, was sparsely populated and given over entirely to farms and orchards, the rich topsoil there over fifty feet deep. Today there are several million people living in Silicon Valley and most of that miraculous topsoil is covered with pavement and buildings.

I was the third of four children and I am fairly certain that if my parents had been born in 1952, rather than 1922, and been the same people, they would have considered it their moral responsibility to give birth to no more than two children. I am very glad they had four children so that I and my siblings got to be alive and experience the miracles of life, but that does not make me any less a believer in the need for men and women, for the good of the world, to limit the number of children they have to two or less.

A front-page article in today’s news proclaims that Romney surged ahead of Obama in the latest national polls, with huge gains among women voters; and I thought to myself, That can’t possibly be true. How could even one woman in America vote for Romney, let alone a majority of women voters? And then I remembered that Romney is a Mormon, and that devout Mormons believe it is every Mormon’s duty to have as many children as he or she can because each new Mormon he or she creates helps him or her accrue credits toward winning a place in a sector of heaven closer to God than if he or she only creates a couple of Mormons or none at all. No wonder Romney wants to keep women ignorant and disenfranchised and vulnerable to stupid violent men—his policies precisely reflect his religious and moral beliefs.

But the big question is: why would any woman vote for a man and a political party dedicated to destroying the earth and systematically mistreating women? The only answer that makes any sense to me is that women who would vote for their oppressors are deeply confused and psychologically damaged. But just because that’s the only answer that makes any sense to me doesn’t necessarily make it the right answer.

Long ago, when I still thought I might one day beget a child or two, I dated a delightful woman I will call Tina. Smart, funny, thoughtful, sexy, and very much in love with me, Tina and I shared a fabulous few weeks of getting to know each other; and I found myself thinking Maybe Tina and I will get married and spend the rest of our lives together.

Then one night, in the afterglow of groovalicious lovemaking, Tina said, “So listen…I’m totally madly in love with you and want to marry you and hope you feel the same way about me, but I have to tell you I want at least five kids and I can’t invest any more time in you if you’re not up for that.”

“Five kids?” I said, hoping she was joking but fairly certain she wasn’t. “Why five kids?”

“I just have to. It’s what I was born to do and I’ve always known that. Have lots of babies and be a mom.”

“Right, but…how about having one or two children and adopting three or four?”

“No, they have to be ours.”

“But…why?”

“If you don’t know,” she said sadly, “I can’t tell you.”

That was the end of my relationship with Tina, though we stayed distant friends and every year at Christmas for many years she sent me a card containing a brief update on her life. When she was in her late twenties and fed up with being a swinging single in Manhattan, Tina met and married a wealthy fundamentalist Christian stockbroker, and thereafter her Christmas cards contained photographs of her growing family. The last photograph I received from Tina shows her eight children, ages eighteen, sixteen, fourteen, twelve, ten, eight, six, and four, having a snowball fight in front of an enormous mansion—a gang of healthy happy looking young people.

For my part, I did not beget any children, but have been lucky to be a helpful uncle and friend to several children who are now of an age to start having children of their own. They are all wonderful people and deeply concerned about the state of the world, and as far as I know, they are each consciously determined to have two children or less should they have any.