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This book could not have been completed without the love and support of my partner in life Leigh Geraghty. Leigh has supported both this book Sun Rise and the lifestyle that we've come to call Natural Living adding immeasurably to the wonderful successes we've achieved. The love we share has been the light that shines when everything else seems like darkness.
The fighting spirit of my brother, Daniel Wilson, has inspired me to continue the battle. Truth and justice have been the light that burns so bright within Dan that I am sometimes blinded by its brilliance. Brotherly love has meant always being there for each other. Thanks brother.
To my parents, thank you for all of the love and support through the years. You've given me every opportunity in the world. We've been lucky to share such incredible journeys together. Your spirit of adventure and for seeking a different path has been and continues to be an inspiration.
So many other people have been so helpful and supportive through the years. Throughout the design and construction of our home Martin Liefhebber our architect, Colin Richards our builder and Leonard Allen (and Ben Rogers) our solar wind system supplier have been invaluable sources of knowledge, experience, inspiration and support. Thank you for your wonderful work.
The time has come for us all to reach within ourselves in order to transform our relationship with the natural world that sustains us. We all know there are problems. What is not always clear is what we can do about these problems.
The dawn of a new era is upon us. Sun Rise is about the life saving opportunity we have to rediscover a natural holistic approach to creating a sustainable world. We are at a point where most of us want to change. We can and must change our collective culture. We need to listen to what science is now telling us. The answers are in our nature.
Upheavals of war and terrorism rage continuously around the world. Nuclear weapons proliferation seems unstoppable. We are all complicit in our inability to stamp out the poverty and starvation that kills billions of people. Economic uncertainty for the majority grows. Teenage suicide rates are increasing. The gap between rich and poor is increasing. Horrific acts of terrorism and more violence occur every day. People everywhere are looking for meaning to their lives in the face of uncertainty, fear, desperation, uncaring, selfishness and tragedy. As if all this were not enough, and also as a result, we also must face perhaps the greatest challenge of our times in the struggle to stop the destruction of the natural world upon which all life depends.
As horrifying upheavals transform our lives, and those of our brethren around the world, we have some choices to make. We can accept the insanity of war, nuclear/coal/oil based energy, the pollution of cars/trucks/planes, the unknown dangers of genetic modification of our foods (we even have the gall to think we can patent life for profit), the social degradation of reality television, pre-emptive military attacks, fear mongering and our obsession with money. Or we can choose a different path. Being sustainable is a choice that you make. If you are not prepared to accept the problems all around you or don’t believe that sensible solutions exist then you are not prepared for sustainability. If and when you do accept that a better way of living is possible then this book can help you along the path of sustainability.
Nature is infinitely complex, varied, and yet balanced. It is nature that inspires awe, creates beauty, and provides connections to the rest of life. It is in nature that we find the answers to the most complex questions and problems. What is the purpose of life and it’s creative powers? Extraordinary people recognize the connections between humanity and nature. Ultimately it seems to me that we must try to live each day, each moment, with this inspired understanding of the fact that “we are the environment”. We are nature, but we have choices. By understanding this we will find the meaning of our lives, and provide that opportunity to our children.
We can generate the energy we need without using nuclear or fossil fuels. The food we eat can be healthier for us without costly genetic modification, damaging pesticides, herbicides and fossil fuel based fertilizers. Cities and towns do exist that provide easy walking access to all the needs of daily life. There are cars and trains powered by fuels that don’t pollute the environment. There are jobs in a new sustainable economy that support the restoration rather than the destruction of nature. Emerging economic giants like China, Russia and India can take a different sustainable path. We all can and must find this wonderful path.
Sun Rise is about making choices that change everything. Take a look at nature all around you. With each moment of your life make the choices that nature shows you make the most sense. Take notice of everything in the natural world around you with a renewed interest. Become inspired by seeing through children’s eyes again. Find people like yourself who know that things have to change. Make a plan. Then live each day with the
The goal of this book is to provide you with a guide to creating a lifestyle that is fulfilling, in harmony with nature, sustainable and meaningful. The first section builds a foundation based on the need for a continuing quest for a deeper understanding of our current situation, the problems and solutions, so that we can make wise choices. Upon this foundation, in the second section, I relate a prescriptive framework for a step-by-step approach to a sustainable lifestyle that I call Natural Living. Finally, I will paint a picture of
You can live more comfortably, be more financially secure for the long term, improve your health, get all your power requirements from the sun, transform waste into food for plants and appreciate life more than ever. If we can do it then so can you. Join us on this wonderful journey that starts each new day inspired and Sun Rise.
“Truth is by nature self-evident, as soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear.” – M.K. Gandhi
Major upheavals in my own life have helped me see where I am, where I am going and what I need to change. Without a major disturbance the insanity all around us can seem normal. Recent events as well as the general direction of our culture make clear that we need a new vision for the future. For many decades now we in affluent societies have chosen to largely ignore the billions of people slowly dying from starvation every year. When I was nine years old we moved to Haiti, even then referred to as one of the poorest countries on earth. This is the island that Columbus discovered as the new world. It was a beautiful island with lush green mountains, colorful art everywhere, and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The squatters in Petionville near where we lived were very poor. They lived precariously on the side of the hill, in makeshift housing. Despite the obvious uncertainty about their future these people were friendly, kind and appeared to me then to be happy.
On the other hand, the markets and streets of Port-au-Prince, the capital city, were sad and filthy. We once saw Jean Claude Duvalier, in his black Mercedes, dropping money out of the window as his car raced away. The poorest of the poor children raced in and fought to keep what little they could grab. Everywhere there were people in rags begging, mothers with babies, small children younger than I was then living in the streets, and horrifically ill people crawling to beg for help. Money for food, please! Things have only gotten much worse for our brothers and sisters in Haiti. The island is a social and environmental tragedy that could have been prevented.
We have been programmed to accept poverty, war, terrorism, selfishness and espionage as legitimate forms of international relations despite how clearly they are a form of mass murder. September 11th saw the horrific attack on the United States directed precisely at their symbols of economic and military domination, while thousands of innocent civilians were murdered. Afghanistan has been devastated by a war of retribution against Osama Bin Ladin who still roams free. The recent war in Iraq was waged under the pretense of information regarding weapons of mass destruction. Does anybody believe that this was not primarily a war to secure the second largest oil reserves left in the world and to stimulate the weak US economy? Nobody knows how many innocent Iraqis have been murdered. In reality, a world addicted to oil, one controlled by multi-national corporations rationalized this illegal invasion despite the obvious fear mongering. A terrible precedent of terrorist attacks on civilians in the United States on September 11th resulted in pre-emptive attacks by the United States on Iraq in so-called preventative retaliation. Innocent civilians die in the name of an eye for an eye policies. Fear is the darkness that threatens to engulf us everywhere. Only a new Sun Rise at a grass roots level can shed light on the answers that are as old as time. The elites in power are blinded by greed, fear, arrogance, rationalizations, selfishness, disconnection, religion and ignorance.
On August 14th, 2003 most of eastern North America experienced a devastating Blackout caused by failures in a highly integrated electricity grid. That day brought the thriving modern city of Toronto where I work to a standstill. For almost an hour nobody knew what had happened. There was talk of terrorist attacks. Should we leave the building? The streets were jammed with traffic as signals had failed, everywhere! Slowly the word got out that all of eastern North America was out. The cause wasn't known. Nobody could predict how long things would be shut down. Generators nobody knew existed were roaring underground in the office towers near where I worked. How long would they last to keep businesses, all the banks, from completely shutting down?
It occurred to me that I had not filled up on gas when I had left my car at the commuter train parking lot that morning. More than likely, I thought to myself, the gas stations would not be able to pump gas without electricity. I began a long walk up the main street along with millions of others like me all over North America. People spontaneously started to make the best of things. People in suits directed traffic. Store and restaurant owners began offering people water for the long walk home, for free…out of the goodness of their hearts, as plainly the hot humid weather posed a grave danger for some. The city came together as though a small community. People began to talk to each other about what was going on…and if you know Toronto, you know this is very unusual. Parks had people sleeping under the stars in large numbers. Life went on, it seemed to me, better than it had with the power on. Even in the following days as power began to be restored office tower owners operated with 30% less energy in order to reduce the burden on systems being restarted slowly. It turns out our natural instinct is to help each other and make the best of our situation, which in turn proved to me that we have the capacity for something much more inspiring and enduring, not to mention sustainable.
The spread of SARS world-wide overwhelmed even the most advanced health systems, killing thousands of people world-wide. Cod fisheries have been shut down for years and people are starting to wonder if they will ever be able to be reopened. Worldwide fishing stocks have been decimated. Billions of dollars each year are wasted in the subsidy of nuclear power programs that have resulted in costly failure. Complex nuclear plants sit idle, unable to be restarted despite billions of dollars being thrown at them. Corruption in business, especially the financial services and energy conglomerates such as Enron and their financial backers have destroyed the credibility of essentially all companies listed on stock markets, their accountants and their legal advisors. The country that could have the most impact on climate change, the United States, has broken its commitment made in Kyoto, just as more and more evidence makes clear that humanity is to blame for the recent warming trends that are expected to cause increasingly destructive problems globally. These are not just news headlines of events somewhere else. These tragedies occur every day to people like you and me.
When I was seven years old I attended a summer school program in a nearby school. That morning my younger brother Dan and I excitedly walked the dirt pathway to the school. Off in the distance we heard several gunshots, and then some more. We both agreed that, "they must be practicing". Later that morning my father interrupted our class in the middle of a story. He said, "Boys, come with me, now!" As we left the front hall of the building a terrible fear rose up in my chest. Something was terribly wrong. My father said, "Keep your heads down!" He grabbed our hands tightly and we began a slow motion run across the dirt field that separated our home from the school. It seemed as though we would never reach our back fence. Off in the distance behind us was a massive cloud of black smoke. Machine gun fire echoed in the distance reverberating in the air around us. Just before we reached our fence a bullet hissed through the air toward my Dad's head.
My family survived the war in Cyprus in 1972 but some families were blown apart. We hid in our home with several other families for weeks. American made Phantom F4 fighter jets ran bombing missions that saw them swoop out of the sky near our home. My six year old brother asked, "Which team is winning?" The Turkish military sent in thousands of paratroopers after the failed attempt to assassinate Archbishop Makarious (by those Cypriots looking to reunite with Greece). As these men dropped out of the sky, with machine guns, descending slowly all around us my mother raced to the bathroom to vomit in fear. Later, my brother and I tried to pluck bullets out of the wall that had protected us from the strays, as a souvenir before being given orders to prepare to evacuate. The UN told us to leave everything except a single suitcase each. We left everything including the water treatment plant my father had been building. It ended up abandoned, as the two sides: Greek and Turkish could not agree on how to share it now that it sat on the line dividing the most beautiful island in the world, Cyprus.
A critical first step towards achieving a natural lifestyle is to become fully aware of the need to change. This need to change may be caused by a significant event such as the birth of your children, September 11th, the Blackout, SARS, war, crisis or the death of someone you love. Some of the powerful forces that can ignite your passion for change include the beauty of nature's creative powers, the sight of nature being destroyed, a horrific headline in the newspaper, the inspiring story of someone who has fought to save the environment, or a spiritual epiphany. Maybe the cost of gas or heating fuels starts to alarm you. Whatever the cause you must retain a clear and concise understanding of the reasons why you must change. Write it down. I am doing this for my kids, so that they will have as many opportunities as I've had, so that they may have cleaner air, so that they may travel the world without fear, knowing that they are one with all other people.
For me the event was the birth of my children. At that moment I literally felt my connection to the infinite, to nature and to time. The love I have for my children provides all of the inspiration and incentive I need. I knew I had to find a way to design a lifestyle that would nurture my children's creative potential while providing a model for living that, if adopted by a large enough portion of the world's population, would ensure a safe, healthy and sustainable world for their future. I think many of us have this deep-rooted desire to make the world a better place. Sadly, our cynicism, perhaps rooted in fear, fear of failure, fears placed in our minds to mollify us and help us accept things as they are, so that we become good consumers, make our natural instincts hard to access. The fact is we can and must change the world. We can make living sustainable.
There is much to be optimistic about. All around we see, hear and read stories that show how creatively people everywhere are fighting the injustices of poverty, the insanity of war and the terrible destruction of nature. Some farmers are converting to organic methods, that are sustainable and earning larger profits in the process. New and old farming practices are proving that increased harvests are possible without inorganic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Young entrepreneurs are creating businesses that sustain nature by selling hemp or organic cotton clothing products. New books come out almost every day full of ideas for sustainable living. A few large organizations like the Rocky Mountain Institute are powerfully inspiring corporations and government towards sustainable policies and practices . Many governments are starting to support the Kyoto Protocol designed to reduce humanity's impact on climate change. We all can find inspiration in these and the following specific examples of change that I have observed:
These "environmental" pioneers have shown me the possibilities and advantages of Natural Living. The incredible advances made on a global level by visionaries grow every year. The large-scale development of more sustainable communities has established a trend that, without exception, has proven advantageous. Many examples now exist, and the list grows larger each year:
At a societal level, we have made advances that have begun to address many of the, problems of pollution, waste, and deforestation, loss of biological diversity, population growth and even fossil fuel usage:
Progress towards a halt to the destruction of nature has been achieved by many long time fighters including Rachel Carson, Helen Caldicott, Ralph Nader, Al Gore, David Suzuki, Paul Hawken, Bob Hunter, Sierra Club, Green Peace, Rocky Mountain Institute, World Wildlife Fund, just to name a few. Unfortunately we are still very far from creating a sustainable world. Our non-renewable resources will be depleted, and our decisions today, or lack of them, will have serious impact on our children, and on future generations. I think you'll agree that these great strides in the right direction are an inspiration. However, we have much work to do since this is just the beginning. There is much more that can and must be done. The process of Natural Living is based on the inspiration of these great achievements.
These people and organizations have clearly seen the links between our actions and their results. Do you make these connections?
What we have been programmed to think of as advances, have also resulted in a great deal of destruction, poverty, and premature deaths. You have to ask yourself are these the changes we really want or need? Do we have a choice? What will be the longer-term consequences?
In 1979 there was a "garage" sale at the school I attended. Everyone donated things that were of some value as a fundraiser for extra-curricular activities. On this occasion I found a small plastic device that had a touch-pad keyboard. It was called a Timex 1000 personal computer. I can't remember how much it cost but I doubt I would have had more than about twenty dollars. To my amazement I was able to plug it in to our TV and create programs that displayed and calculated. Connecting a cassette recorder allowed me to save the programs I created. Within a few weeks I was able to create games and would one day develop a bowling simulation game for a school project.
By the time I reached University it was possible to buy a "modem" that allowed me to use a telephone line to access the school's central computer system. There was even something called "e-mail". Eventually, over the last ten years the network of University computers, called the Internet, has evolved into the world wide Internet we all take for granted. Amazingly, more and more, every bit of information we could ever require is available instantly, anywhere in the world. In just over twenty years the information revolution has changed the way the world works. My entire working life has been based on jobs that would not have existed without the personal computer revolution.
What is point of all this computer revolution stuff? Well, the opportunities exist now for a sustainability revolution composed of conservation first, then personal distributed renewable power systems, sophisticated hybrid transportation systems that are computer controlled, smart building systems with integrated power management and generation capabilities and eventually eco-cities that are networks of all of our best ideas naturally, holistically and systematically integrated. Like the personal computer revolution the technology, price and size reductions, and proof-of-concepts systems have proven themselves. With mass production and mass distribution of these ideas, a wholesale change in the energy technology of society is possible. Change towards sustainability is as inevitable as the computer revolution. When something makes as much sense, provides so much value, while being so easily distributed it is able to overcome the centralized, primitive systems of the past. Sustainability appears to be inevitable on this basis. Let this be your manual to the sustainability revolution. The bigger issue is cultural. Can we put the values of sustainability first again?
Being sustainable is nothing new. It is built into our genetic code. According to the theories of Darwin, we are here precisely because by design, by luck, and by natural selection we are survivors. All of what we need to know to be sustainable already exists and has been proven workable if not currently then in the not so distant past. The tools and knowledge are out there although we should be aware that some are disappearing or being forgotten.
Around 20,000 years ago our ancestors began to use tools. Tools such as rocks formed for cutting, grinding and chopping, not to mention hunting and killing, enabled us as a species to become as dominant and adaptable as any species yet evolved. Our proportionally larger brains have allowed us to extend this ability into the realms of social interaction, organization for the purposes of building communities, and most recently to explore outer space. We've even co-operated to build a space station, housing designed for the inhospitable territory we call outer space. To be sure even here we've brought our technologies of sustainability, including that remarkable device called the solar panel.
The tools we need to live sustainably were discovered and refined long ago. Better integration, production scale and awareness are the primary remaining hurdles that drop daily. Sometimes our difficulty lies in rediscovering the brilliance of our ancient sustainable ways. Of course we've made as many mistakes, if not more, in the past. To a large degree that is part of the value. Time allows for the problem solving process on a vast scale. Trial and error are a natural proven technique for solving problems. Much of what we need to know has long ago been through this process.
On the other hand we can also use our failures of the past in order to fashion a better path for the future. Ancient cultures, it would appear, have come and gone in part due to unsustainable agricultural practices or environmental destruction.
Paintings of our early ancestors have been found in caves that served in some cases as shelter. The ancient Egyptians worshiped the sun and created great tombs including the pyramids, aligned with the heaves, to immortalize themselves. Anasazi, the ancient Navajos, designed and created communities that were sacred in design; that design took advantage of passive solar techniques, perhaps beyond our own current understanding of these concepts. Some Ansazi sites, for instance, demonstrate a deep understanding of changing natural solar phenomenon. Buildings and agriculture took advantage of the changing solar access through summer and winter. The buildings and community were designed in radial patterns around the movement of the sun and other objects in the sky as well as the seasons. The contruction of limiting boundaries were key to the design of pueblo communities. Encompassing community requirements within limited and bounded structures reflects an understanding of limits within nature. Rooms to the north were often for storage as in the sustainable design of the Wilson home to be detailed later. Living areas were more often found on the south sides and upper levels. The southern orientation was well designed to take advantage of passive solar techniques combined with the thermal mass provided by adobe wall construction.
Ancient civilizations were well aware of the changing position of the sun and discovered many ways to use it. Socrates talked of these concepts in ancient times. For thousands of years, African, Mediterranean, Asian, and other cultures used the sun to dry clothes and animal skins, preserve meat, dry crops, and evaporate seawater to produce salt. Where this knowledge came from is unknown. Presumably trial and error, experimentation, and many millennia of observation combined to provide communities and groups with an oral tradition full of these ideas. Cultures often build these into the myths, songs and stories they tell from generation to generation. Our own culture has given us one of my favorites…the story of the three little pigs, that impact our way of thinking in a very broad way.
Around 500 BC a shortage of local firewood led the ancient Greeks to use the changing angle of the Sun's rays to heat their homes. Famous Greek philosophers, such as Socrates and Aristotle, advised city planners to position buildings so that sunlight entered them in winter, but not in summer. Heavy building materials stored the solar energy let in during the day. Window shutters were closed at night to retain the heat inside. Buildings were also clustered together to provide shelter from cold winds. Six hundred years later, the Romans added to the design of solar buildings. They faced transparent mica windows towards the Sun, and used heavy, dark-colored floors to absorb and store heat for release at night. The Romans were also the first civilization to use greenhouses to grow vegetables and other plants.
In the 18th century, the Swiss scientist, Horace Benedict de Saussure, built the first solar water heating collector. It was simply a wooden box with a glass top and a black base. By trapping solar energy, this collector reached a temperature of 88° Celsius.
In 1774, the French scientist Lavoisier focused sunlight through a series of high powered lenses to produce heat. Also in France, in 1878, a dish-shaped mirror was used to focus solar energy onto a steam boiler which powered a printing press. At about the same time, in Chile, a solar distilling operation produced over 20,000 liters of fresh water a day from salt water.
(Source: http://www.earth.uni.edu/EECP/elem/mod3.html, History of Solar Energy)
R The sun has existed for at least four billion years and is the oldest and most efficient form of renewable energy! For most of human history we have relied exclusively on this renewable and sustainable form of energy.
R 400 BC: Socrates builds a solar house using passive solar design.
R Ancient Native American tribes like the Anasazi build their homes within massive rock cliffs facing southwest in order to capture warmth and energy from the sun.
R In 1767, Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure builds the first solar collector. John Herschel later uses this solar collector.
R In the 1830s, John Herschel, a British astronomer, uses a solar collector box to cook food while exploring in Africa.
R In 1839, a French physicist named Edmund Becquerel observes the photovoltaic effect in his laboratory. This effect will lead the use of solar photovoltaic panels for space exploration.
R In 1891, Clarence Kemp, an inventor from Baltimore, Maryland, patents the first commercial solar water heater.
R In 1908, William J. Bailey of the Carnegie Steel Company invents an insulated solar collector with copper coils. Bailey sold 4,000 units by the end of World War One.
R Due to copper rationing during the Second World War, the solar water heating market plummets.
R The photovoltaic, or PV cell, is discovered in 1954 by Bell telephone researchers. During the 1950s, photovoltaic cells are beginning to be used to power satellites for outer space.
R During the 1970s and 1980s, due to the oil price increases, the OPEC oil embargo in 1973, and the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, interest and research regarding solar energy rises.
R During his term as President, Jimmy Carter adds solar heating panels to the White House. They have since been removed.
(Source: http://www.personal.psu.edu/users/b/j/bjs286/egee/right.html, Timeline of Solar Power)
R In 2000, the Unites States used 70 trillion Btu of solar energy.
R Other countries around the globe have dramatically increased their research, development, and usage of solar energy.
R 90% of Cyprus's homes and buildings have solar water heating panels.
R More than 20,000 homes worldwide are powered by solar cells!
R Japan leads the world in the production and use of photovoltaic solar panels.
R Germany generates twenty percent of its electricity using the wind (wind is a form of solar power).
Wind energy was used as early as 5000 years ago, when it provided the power for mechanical tasks such as pumping water for irrigation, grinding grain, and sailing ships. The first wind machines had cloth sails, and were fixed in one position to face the prevailing wind. In the 1300's, a tailpole was attached to the machine so that the operator could turn the propeller to face winds coming from any direction. This was soon replaced by a fantail, which allowed the propeller to automatically face into the wind.
In the 1800's, wind generators were developed to generate electricity in remote areas. Installed across the Nullabor Plain in Australia, they provided power for radio communication between Eastern and Western states. Many rural homesteads were provided with electricity from wind generators also. By the mid 1900's, large wind generators were linked in with existing electricity supply networks to supplement conventional electricity supplies. Today, large wind machines are being experimented with in the USA. And in the USA and Europe, "wind farms", made up of hundreds of wind generators, feed electricity into existing electricity supply networks. Remote areas too, are turning away from expensive diesel-powered generators to wind power for their electricity.
The largest wind turbine in the world is located in Canada and is rated to produce 4 megawatts of electricity an hour…that is enough to provide power for 1,200 conventional homes. The wind farm has more seventy five wind turbines most rated at 750 kilowatt hours. Total generating capacity is estimated at 57 megawatts of electricity or approximately 17,000 homes. Canada now produces about 370 megawatts using wind power enough to provide power to more than approximately 110,000 conventional homes. Just imagine what the industry can do once the annual $2 billion in subsidies to fossil/nuclear is redirected towards wind and solar. Each year we could be purchasing and installing about 1,000 wind turbines adding more than 1,000 megawatts every year. When combined with conservation measures that could easily reach at least 50% saving, and combined with solar systems the future could easily looks quite clean and green. Finally, just imagine if the costs of pollution, clean-up, risk, construction/refurbishment, decommissioning and health were factored into fossil/nuclear. Clearly there is a better social and economic path.
(Source: http://www.earth.uni.edu/EECP/elem/mod3.html, History of Solar Energy)
There are so many ancient ideas we can re-learn to make our lifestyles much more comfortable without using fossil fuels. Try finding out more about the following to see how much we really have achieved even in ancient times:
R Cooling towers of the Sahara
R Nebraska straw bale homes some of which are over a hundred years old and still being lived in
R Agriculture of Mayan Indians
R Machu Pichu agriculture, site design, and green houses
R Adobe houses
R The tipi
R Earthen houses of Africa
R Houses on stilts in Malaysia
R Wind mills of Holland
R Chinese farming practices
This great heritage will become critical to our survival. Now it is time to take a good hard look at the biggest problems we need to solve. We've got the tools. Where do we start? What should be the highest priorities?
Change really can create a natural home, village, city, community, country and world. So how do we make these changes? First we need to understand the reasons we need to change. Our best scientists have been ringing the alarm bells louder and louder when it comes to global warming and climate change.
After the birth of my son in 1992 I discovered something that, inconceivably, the mass media had missed. The Union of Concerned scientists had issued a very clear "Warning to Humanity". As a new father this warning concerned me deeply. This was not your average media hyped crackpot story. These were some of the best and brightest minds in the world.
What follows is a list of the most critical problems we face, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, whose membership includes most of this century's Nobel Prize winners for science. The "Warning to Humanity" was signed by one thousand eight hundred of the most prominent and respected scientists in the world in 1992. (See Appendix A for the complete text of the warning). We have been told clearly that the following problems are warning signs of the high impact our current activities are having on our environment. According to these scientists, these problems require that we take action as soon as possible in order to avert a disaster:
R The Atmosphere – air pollution, acid rain, ozone depletion and health problems
R Water Resources – ground water depletion and water pollution
R Oceans – toxic pollution, fish stock depletion and soil erosion
R Soil – productive soil loss, degraded vegetative areas and decreasing levels of food production
R Forests – tropical rain forests will soon be gone, species that reside in rain forests will become extinct, forest cover available is decreasing, the lungs of the living earth are being destroyed
R Living Species – loss of one third of all species by 2100, loss of genetic diversity, potential biological system collapse when combined with global warming
R Population – one tenth of the worlds' 6 billion people are starving, one fifth live in terrible poverty; current economic systems cause environmental destruction with world population not expected to level off until 12-14 billion people
These are the symptoms signaling that we need to change. What specifically should be our top priorities when trying to address these problems? The following are the most harmful consumer activities, as understood by the Union of Concerned Scientists, and stated by them in the year 2000. We need to find ways to transform, reduce or eliminate these activities if we are to make a significant impact:
These are at the heart of most of our lifestyles. We have to change the most common things we do every day. Daunting isn't it? It isn't really. The daunting feeling comes about because we aren't familiar with the answers. They are all out there. How do we find the answers?
We can do this by asking questions such as: What alternatives do I have to these essential parts of my life? The next time I think I need to buy a car or truck, can I eliminate that need? If not, can I minimize the need to use this type of vehicle, or purchase one that minimizes the pollution it will contribute during its lifetime? The potentially higher initial cost will be recuperated over the long term through reduced fuel efficiency and therefore, cost (The Toyota Prius we recently purchased is proving this theory to be true). This same kind of thinking can be applied to the food we eat, the heating and cooling systems in our houses, the appliances and lighting systems we select, the materials and methods used to construct our houses, and finally the way we collect, use and dispose of water. However, it is up to us as consumers to ask the question, does this house, this car, this appliance, this cucumber and this light conform to the ideas and principles of a sustainable future? If the answer is no, then we need to remind ourselves to find a creative alternative. These alternatives save you money in the long term, are better for your health, and when combined holistically can transform our lifestyles to one that is sustainable and far more satisfying.
In my own life, the need to change seems more and more obvious to me as I open my eyes, ears and thoughts to the natural world and how it affects my children. In my own neighborhood, and in the city of Toronto, near where I live and work, I have found the following:
R increasingly frequent "smog alerts" caused by cars and trucks, clogging the expanding road systems with less emphasis on public transit, and the increasing use of fossil fuel powered power plants (that also cause smog),
R mass-produced and factory-farm produced meat and poultry products for fast food restaurants,
R vast expanses of good farm land destroyed by pesticides, fertilizers, and genetically engineered fruits, vegetables and grains; or developed for housing, golf courses, and shopping centers,
R urban sprawl development for housing and industry that requires artificial environments supplied with fossil fuel based heating, hot water and air conditioning,
R home construction that uses minimal insulation of the lowest possible quality, toxic materials, non-renewable materials, and which does not take advantage of solar orientation or solar design principles,
R horrible smells caused by overloaded sewage treatment plants,
R tainted water caused by contamination of ground water from livestock waste, as we've seen in Walkerton.
Trees are dying by the sides of roads and highways. Grayish yellow smog in the sky drifts far from our cities. The odors are becoming noxious further and further from their source. Lake Ontario's beaches are closed more frequently due to increased levels of bacteria from the increasing sewage loads and industrial pollution being pumped into this vast fresh water lake.
At a more subtle level, I find myself now aware of the strange desert wasteland that we have come to substitute for nature. Our parks, manicured lawns, and concrete-covered cityscapes, with their cold, clean, bug free, Kentucky blue grass, now seem to me to be like a wasteland. This contrast has become clear to me since I allowed the land around our new home in the country to naturalize, populate with many native trees, millions of bugs, and native plants of every kind. Even in the cities I've noticed a few brave creative souls have defied convention by creating front yards filled with wild flowers, perennials and native grasses. Given the slightest chance, nature creates a beauty, manages itself and feeds itself to perfection. It brings a terrible lump to my throat now as I wonder through the countryside, around suburban mega-developments, and even old downtown neighborhoods and parks. We have disconnected ourselves so far from nature that we now shun weeds, hate scrappy looking native trees, scream at the sight of ants, and hate the nuisance "pests" around us. And yet, now that I've spent just a few years back in nature I see incredible beauty in a field full of wild flowers, grasses, raspberries, thistles, daisies, bushes, and beautiful dandelions.
At the root of many manifestations of "environmental" problems , as identified by the scientific community, is a disconnection between humans with the natural world. Our global economy is driven by the idea of endless growth, economics of selling and a lack of any real connection to the natural world. This can't continue. Nature demonstrates that balance and symbiosis are the answers to sustainability. This takes a societal change that rejects the idea of growth, money and consumerism as the driving forces of the global community.
Our decision to accept the media, advertising and government mantra that economics must be our top priority has created a monster that fuels itself at the expense of everything in nature. By establishing economics as society's number one priority we have forgotten that the meaning of our life is not defined by how much money we have or how much profit our corporations generate. Rather life defines itself by its ability to continue over the long term. Life is about finding symbiotic relationships that benefit all of nature. Life uses its intelligence to support all natural processes. It is self-organizing and self-regulating, and values the whole over the individual because the individual is part of the whole.
Wouldn't you love to see wild flowers by the side of the
Don't you think it would be amazing to pick apples and pears on University Avenue,
Put all the asphalt underground where it belongs,
Return our parks to forests, meadows, streams, bogs, wetlands, and creeks,
Cover all the roof tops with wild gardens and solar panels,
Dig up big chunks of sidewalk and plant more trees,
Take all those concrete cul de sacs and return them to rambling streams,
What if we gave the fish a fighting chance,
That's what I call going wild.
Reconnecting with nature brings us closer to our children, family, friends, community, the earth, good food, fun, physical activity, free time, rest, relaxation, animals, plants, and the beauty of our natural surroundings. During times of difficulty, when there seems to be no hope, in the middle of our fast-paced, and at times mindless modern life, we sense that something is not right. As Ferenc Mate says in his book, A Reasonable Life,
"we will have to put humanity first again—each human's physical needs and, just as important, the needs of the human spirit. We need to put them far ahead of the mythical importance of short-term profits, special interests, institutions, or economic systems whose preservation now dictates how we live." (pg xii).
Our economic system has evolved in support of the few with the greatest amount of money. This system has been sold to the rest of us who can afford it. But this type of wealth does not bring us more happiness nor does it take care to look after nature that sustains us, nor does it take care of the poor starving masses who are our brothers and sisters, our global family. Economics is not life. We must put life, awareness of connection and nature first again.
We also need to change our institutions which are driven by our consumer-oriented society that drives the industrial commerce that does perhaps more damage than our individual lifestyles. These massive non-human systems will find it even harder to change their ways. Their simple mission is profit above all else. Although institutions, such as the multinational corporation, are major contributors to these problems, their ability to make the changes required is inhibited by their lack of consciousness. Our institutions must be transformed in support of life and nature, not profits. Only you and I can make that happen.
We must recognize car companies, power producers, forestry giants, multi-national food companies, military suppliers, pharmaceutical companies, sewage treatment utilities and many other large corporations for what they are. These companies are no different from present-day cigarette companies that have been convicted in United States Supreme Court. These companies were found guilty of knowingly hiding the deadly effects of their products, including the pernicious addictive properties, in the name of profits. Keep in mind that these are the same people who run the largest food companies as well and they will be found culpable again since all of these are now known to produce goods and services that cause major environmental damage that in turn creates thousands of health-related deaths in each major city every year, (not to mention the long term health problems, that won't be known until sometime in the future). Their charters, their principles, their goals are to maximize profits for their highly paid executives and their major shareholders. This type of organization and its place in society must change.
Of course we are just as guilty, now that we know of the dangers. It is our duty, as citizens of the world, to act in defense of nature, in defense of our children's future. We must fight the perpetrators. To fail in this duty would be a crime in itself. To knowingly allow our children to be poisoned without defending them, without taking the time and energy to prosecute these crimes, we ourselves become guilty.
There will be those who take these companies and governments to court and they will be found guilty. This is an important task in the process of paying our debts to humanity, especially those not yet born, who will be the most affected. However, I also believe that we have even greater power than our ability to prosecute these companies and governments. We can change our lives despite the great power their marketing and propaganda machines may have over us. We can choose to live according to the principles set out in this book, which will force these companies to pay their debts to society, change their ways or cease to exist. The solutions described in this book allow us all to do this in a positive, affordable, realistic and life-affirming way that is fair for everyone.
History teaches us that in the search for the truth, the lies may be found in our "vanity" or ego. Nature will always be as perfect and full of answers as it has always been. It is ourselves we must overcome in the end.
We need to overcome ourselves first and foremost. Nature has all the answers. You and I, the rich and the poor, the CEO and the laborer, the solitary writer and the leader of groups, the teachers and the students, engineers and scientists, doctors and nurses, we must realize that we are here for a brief time. We are all made of the same stuff. We will return to the universe, all of us, the same way. Our simple connection with the universe is our continued existence in our children. Our children need a natural world full of the diverse creatures we have known. They need clean air and water, healthy food, and the opportunity to express their creativity. Your connection to nature leads you from vanity and into the arms of those you love. This is a call to fight the injustice of jeopardizing your children's future. This is your chance to act now, to save your children and their children, and thereby save yourself. You…me, and our children, we are all the same nature all connected as one with the rest of nature. Vanity, individuality and your ego are an illusion. We are all connected equally through nature and too nature. We are the whole that is nature.
In the media, issues are often simplified and stated in highly disconnected terms. As the very expression "environmental problem" suggests, we have tended to describe the problems as if they were the environment's. In fact you and I are the problem and environmental degradation is the symptom. The symptoms of the problems can be seen in the media topics of:
R Ozone depletion
R Global warming
R Energy: fossil fuels, nuclear and dams
R Top soil loss
R Water shortages
R Chemicals, toxic materials
R Arms spending
R International debt
R Acid rain
R Contaminated water
R Air pollution or smog
R Rainforest destruction
R Genetically modified foods
R Wars for land and water
R Drug use
These symptoms are no longer debatable. I find it more useful however, to replace the media titles for the problems (in other words the symptoms) with what I believe are the real problems – the actual causes. Then we can apply the process of problem solving in our daily lives, and in the world community. We manifest these problems in the following ways:
R Toxic chemical and fossil fuel usage for food production, transportation, and power generation.
R Economics that don't count the value of nature now and in the future, in other words we don't pay the true long-term costs of what we consume today, nor is the system balanced, rather endless unnatural growth is assumed.
R A lost connection with nature, and the meaning and purpose of life that results in fear.
We can we eliminate or balance these problems within the natural framework. Doing this in isolation, of course, is futile. Just because I may have solved some of these problems in my life doesn't mean that the problems have been solved at all. However, by writing this book, hoping that you will share this knowledge, I believe we can solve these problems together. Many others are doing the same sort of thing in different ways. If we all work together we can make the sustainable revolution a reality in time for nature to recover.
We need to find a process that makes these solutions universally applicable. That process isn't hard to find. It's a process that nature itself uses. It is one of finding perfect balance and flow, evolutionary change, sustained by solar energy. The infinite creative potential in the universe provides all of the answers. These answers will be realized through the spirit of our consciousness, through our new understanding of connection. This sense of our connection to the infinite through our children and their children to come binds us all together with nature. Our job must be to apply new values to this fundamental idea in our daily lives. We need to start making choices using the full power of our creativity. We must dig deeper in our understanding of our connection to nature.
We need to try to see through the masks covering the truth. We need to try to overcome our inability to admit that we have problems. Like any addiction, which our current lifestyle is quite literally, the first step is to admit we have these problems and understand what the true root causes are. The second step is to begin the process of solving them in order to bring back health to ourselves, those we love, and the natural world that sustains us. This next step is charged full of life, potential, creativity, and opportunity. The process of creating a natural lifestyle that sustains your family is full of adventure, fun, and discovery.
By being more aware of your impact, your potential…life becomes more engaged, more exciting and more fulfilled. We must work at this process every single day as though it were our last on this earth. Life is about this moment now! Plans for the future are important. Understanding the past is wise. Doing something now is the only real way things can and do change. We must continue the quest towards changing ourselves; relating our experiences with others and having them relate their experiences. This will lead towards a continuous process of improving on our solutions. We can live our lives joyfully, making choices in accord with our principles. This is the process of Natural Living that makes the changes such a wonderful experience.
The most important way to prepare for the critical changes necessary are an awareness of the root causes of the problems. Some essential things suggested in the book Sacred Balance that you can do to prepare include:
R Think critically about the information that floods us. Consider the sources.
R Trust your common sense, your ability to assess information. There is a difference between information published in a tabloid such as the National Enquirer and magazines such as Scientific American, the New Scientists or the Ecologist. Be aware of a publication's potential pro-business biases.
R Confirm to your own satisfaction the depths of the global ecological crisis alluded to in the "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity." Ask your elders about how things have changed in the past sixty to eighty years.
R Project your mind far ahead into the future and consider the problems that we are leaving as a legacy for our children and grandchildren.
R Think deeply about some of the most widely held assumptions; many underlie the destructive path we're on. Are human beings special? Does science and technology provide us with the understanding and tools to manage nature? Isn't the economic assumption of endless growth required to solve environmental problems really simply a suicidal notion for any species that lives in a finite world?
R Think about your connections to the living web. How is this connection affected by the activities of your life?
R Construct a hierarchy of your own basic needs, those things that are absolutely necessary for you to live, to be fulfilled and to be happy.
R Reflect on how we can meet our fundamental needs while also making a living. To do so means that our economy has to be connected to the real world of the biosphere.
R Protect the vigour and diversity of the local communities.
R There are many small ways to modify your lifestyle that are good for your health, your pocketbook and the health of the planet. Acting on them reinforces our understanding that we can live in a way that makes Earth sense. Do I really need this? Could I take public transit? Why not bike or walk? Use both sides of a piece of paper.
R Industries that are designing means of production can follow the example of nature in which one species' waste is another's opportunity.
R Go out into nature. Nature is not our enemy, it is our home; in fact it sustains us and is in every one of us. All living things are our relatives and belong with us in the biosphere.
R Don't feel guilty. Guilt is draining and oppressive—as the T-Shirt says. Nobody's Perfect.
(Suzuki and McConnel, The Sacred Balance, Pg 209-217)
The way we do things, the "worldly goods" we take so much for granted, this world of technology that seems to be able to solve so many problems – these are the illusions of our society. The difficulty is in being able to see through the thin veil of comfort, addiction, and our acceptance of the way things are. We need a far richer, deeper, more complex vision of living that does not accept our quick fix solutions of today. To try to get a sense for how messed up our modern systems are, take a look at our so called "modern technology" called sewage treatment systems:
"Mix one part excreta with one hundred parts clean water. Send the mixture through pipes to a central station where billions are spent in futile attempts to separate the two. Then dump the effluent, now poisoned with chemicals but rich in nutrients, into the nearest body of water. The nutrients feed algae which soon use up all the oxygen in the water, eventually destroying all aquatic life that may have survived the chemical residues.
All this adds up to a strange balance sheet: the soil is starved for the natural benefits of human manure, garbage and organic materials that go down the toilet, the drain and to the dump. So agribusiness shoots it up with artificial fertilizers made largely from petroleum. These synthetics are not absorbed by the soil and leach out to pollute rivers and oceans. We each use eight to ten thousand gallons of fresh water to flush away material that could be returned to the earth to maintain its fertility. Our excreta—not wastes but misplaced resources—end up destroying food chains, food supply, and water quality in rivers and oceans." (from the introduction to the Toilet Papers, by Sym Van der Ryn)
This is crap! This is insane. We need to view these systems through new eyes. Many of our "modern" conveniences create a false sterility that leads to an artificial system disconnected from natural systems. In fact, many modern systems are terribly destructive to life. Too often our "modern" way of life simply masks, or ships, or pipes, or disconnects, or trucks away the waste, which is in reality a resource, to a dump or lake or ocean. "Out of sight, out of mind." An institutionalized system of waste management masks this insanity. This system ignores modern knowledge of ecological systems. And yet these stinking problems cry out for a creative, positive solution that is in their nature if we simply challenge ourselves to find them. Nature is able to process our waste as food for other plants and animals. All we need to do is combine that knowledge with creativity to come up with things like "Living Machines" and smart composting toilets to know that we could do much more with much less. More than that, we could use this magic to transform waste into useful food energy for plants that in turn produce materials we can use again.
Nature is far more complex than our technology will ever be. So we can't continue in our current belief that technology will be able to solve the problems it creates. The technology already exists. The answers are built into the infinite creative ability of nature. Let this be our journey–to find this beauty in our daily lives. Let's find the right balance, the natural flow of resources, the complex, diverse, interrelated connections between everything that solve these problems.
Nature shows us how waste can be magically transformed into a food source, so that it becomes an asset rather than a liability. As Sim van der Ryn explains in The Toilet Papers, "When waste is used, a liability becomes an asset, and the very concept of waste disappears." When we apply this to the balance sheet of our lives we find that we can transform almost every act from one of destruction to one of creation. This is one of the magical laws of nature.
In this book we will show this transformation in action as we build a home that returns excreta to the soil as food rather than creating waste. We'll learn how to maintain coolness rather than creating it. We'll see how we can transform and store solar heat and energy rather than pipe it in inefficiently from thousands of miles away (wasting 70% of the energy in the process). The potential, as nature shows us, is simply the most astonishingly beautiful balanced symbiotic existence imaginable. Nature is full of magic if we take the time to look deeper. We need to talk to her daily, learn more and love her more than ever, for she holds all the answers.
Some of the most pressing problems, causing the most destruction to the earth and people every day, do not get reported. This includes tragedies such as "30,000 children" who died today for lack of clean drinking water (pg 82, Superspecies, Dressel & Suzuki), the glaciers that are retreating causing changes in weather patterns (okay recently there has been lots of press on this one), the daily loss of the world's best soil for farming, and vast areas of land being lost to unsustainable forest practices. These atrocities are occurring right now as you read these words. These are the unrelenting problems that are not reported each day as they occur.
The media are supposed to keep us informed of these important issues. This isn't happening. Why the lack of attention given the tragic impact? These major multinational news corporations are driven by profits. Profits paid for by the companies inflicting the most damage to the earth. No wonder we don't get the complete story or the full reporting of the potential implications. The "Warning to Humanity" issued by the most distinguished scientists in the world did not get any major coverage in any major news source when it was issued in 1992! Sadly the headlines of the day were about sex, scandal, violence and celebrity, because these drive profits for the news corporations and their advertisers. They've found that currently this is what we appear to want to read and it sells. Do we really want this or are they manipulating us?
We need to be aware of this in the news we read, the opinions and attitudes of politicians, and even in ourselves. We are not immune to this constant barrage of perception management. To be blunt, we must take into consideration all of the brain washing that has been delivered to all levels of society since birth. We are all affected. No wonder attention to these critical problems has been lacking.
The impact of sudden realizations, through major crisis, can change people at any level forever. The opportunity of creating a sustainable future for our children is such an issue. We are at a crisis stage. The effects we see, and especially those we don't, are telling us we must act now no matter who we are or where we live.
The media needs to provide a critical service to humanity. The business of reporting the problems we face, the analysis of competing views and research, and the expression of our shared knowledge has the great potential of informing the basis for our existence. Unfortunately this seldom happens.
" 'As a society, we are moving away from talking about ideas. Now we talk in slogans. The media doesn't force us to think issues through in their full complexity. Thus, we are getting policies driven by slogan orientation.' Complaints such as this reflect a dilemma regarding the business of information management. Precisely because it is a business, run for profit, the media tend to operate on a mandate that encourages public consumption preferences. (Downs 1972, 42: Herman and Chomsky 1988) It thus serves as an instrument that reinforces scientific materialist values." (Fatal Consumption, pg 112)
Media multi-nationals, which are driven by profit, simply can't provide the insightful life-supporting journalism we so desperately need. What little unbiased reporting that does exist is simply overwhelmed by the brain-washing media power-corporations who own the air-waves which dominate several hours of the average person's spare time each day. This lack of complete information is critical to your analysis of the problems each and every day, and to the analysis that leads to solutions. If you've wondered, if the current situation is such a big deal, why haven't you gotten that sense from the daily news reports, now you should realize that they are part of the problem. The current priorities of the world we live in don't support the kind of news reporting and journalism that would be required to properly inform the majority of people. Our economic priority must be transformed into a quality of life priority in order to have the kind of reporting we need.
Rather than life, it is economics or money that is the driving force of societies today. Our economic systems are dominated by multinational corporations, working in a capitalist economic model that is fanatical about growth, profits and greed. This economic system is driven by a view of wealth defined by the endless accumulation of electronic goods, mind numbing entertainment, drugs, sterile homes, water-based sewage systems, unlimited inexpensive energy, fossil-fuel powered devices to make the world even more sterile and polluted. These same corporations, and the governments they manipulate, need more consumers in order to drive the growth-oriented economic system. This is not wealth, but addiction to growth. True wealth comes from a much richer context that requires none of the things we accumulate or use.
Instead, we need to adopt a vision of wealth that supports a more profound existence. A natural balance in our use of the earth's resources is required. We need to spend more time with those we love. We all need more fun and happiness in our lives. A much deeper connection with nature will help us appreciate our impact on each other and the future. If this is poverty by current definitions, then I guess we seek poverty. As many of the great spiritual leaders have taught, from Buddha to Jesus, the true path to their vision of a connection to the infinite is found through "poverty", simplicity, giving, peace, love and the renunciation of worldly goods. We may not need to go as far as these words make you think. If dedicating the majority of my income to food and shelter that is sustainable is poverty, then I am happy to be poor. If simplicity and connection to nature means the elimination of commercial television programming, then I will rejoice in the newfound time with my family, friends and nature. And finally, with the minimization of "worldly goods" the few things I do have will be more special and important to me and those I love as they become critical to sustaining our existence.
Depending upon how we define it, wealth can be the source of a great many problems. For most of us the basic sources of wealth come from meeting some simple and basic needs:
R Water, sunshine and clean air
R Basic health care
Unfortunately the modern global system doesn't try to meet these needs. Instead it makes it possible to accumulate the greatest amount of money, our modern representation of wealth, through the creation of nothing at all. The rich and powerful essentially use their "power" to leverage the wealth of the majority to "invest" it in order to create greater wealth. The poor majority supply the low cost labor, while also, in the end, becoming the consumers required to keep this cycle going. So the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
True wealth must be understood well in order to transform this terrible systematic process of theft. True wealth can only be created through a process that is outside this institutionalized system. We must keep in mind that the current world system was invented and perpetuated by the small minority of rich, powerful, and paranoid. Once the meaning of wealth returns to that defined by nature, including sufficient food, shelter, clothing, time with family, water, warmth, health and happiness, then we will have achieved natural sustainability.
To bring down the whole house of cards, all we need to do is remove the lies, and shine a light on the full complex truth. We must change our lifestyles. We need to redefine wealth with the ideas of Natural Living. The principles of love, compassion, peace, sharing, creativity, health, equality, freedom, meeting basic needs, and caring for nature are the eternal truth.
Watching life drift by,
Living through the actors on TV,
Laughing or pitying the attention starved,
These are the signs of the poverty of wealth,
Not knowing why we do the things
Feeling empty deep inside,
Filled with fast food, brand names and beer commercials,
These are the signs of the poverty of wealth,
The disease is spreading faster
The prosaic cure of our time is economy,
The creation of something for nothing,
These are the signs of the poverty of wealth,
The time has come to think of
We must rediscover the creative in poverty,
The wealth of ideas in people must return,
These are the signs of the end of the poverty of wealth.
The vast scale and complexity of our current situation requires a deep understanding of some critical factors. The idea that we have an "environmental" problem for instance, is an indicator of the deceptive nature of the issues. In fact, we have a human problem of some kind that degrades the environment despite the environment's best natural abilities to maintain balance and a healthy world. Some critical issues that must be dealt with, in terms of the "human" problem, are well-articulated in the book Fatal Consumption: Rethinking Sustainable Development. The question of why people haven't acted already, given the obvious problems, must be understood if we are to have a chance of solving the problems. These "human" problems are outlined as follows in the book Fatal Consumption (pg 8-17):
R Separation of Action and Consequence – Much of the destruction caused by our modern way of living is not immediately visible or detectable.
R Temporally – Delay in the effects of human impacts on the environment.
R Geographically – The massive scale of the global economy's ability to move goods and dispose of them makes these connections invisible.
R Socially – The modern evolution of products and services that serve social requirements like retirement living, daycares, employment, and housing are highly separated both socially and by distance, making a tight local integration nearly impossible.
R Intellectually – The rationalized denial of the connections between the causes of problems and their adverse effects.
R Ethically – The lack of ethics applied to intellectual development of technology and advertising, for instance.
R Globalization – The system of economics that drives the global economy creates great wealth for some and terrible poverty for others. The supply of consumables for the wealthy from every corner of the earth, especially the third world, through a system of cash crops, near slave labor, abandonment of subsistence farming, unsustainable removal of resources, corruption, and poor working conditions. The conditions of civil war, terrorism, torture, famine, and abject poverty, under which a large majority of our inexpensive consumer goods are made, simply aren't listed in the ingredients. And even if they were, are we ready to do something in order to help these people in a positive, constructive and lasting manner, especially given our sad record of denial, abandonment, ignorance, and lack of caring for that which is somewhere else?
R Finding the People Responsible – We are all to blame both individually, in our communities, through our cultural choices, and in our political systems. Much of this can be blamed on a short sightedness and a preference to focus on seemingly more immediate and important issues like the economy, ourselves, and other external problems. Our media, which is a reflection of ourselves, simply shows our lack of interest in these problems with a preference for sex, scandal, money, and style, for instance.
R Find the Right Scale for Action – In order for the problems we outline here to be solved, we need to develop a clear understanding of the correct level and scale at which the solutions need to be applied. The program for action, the levels at which to enact them and forces required to perpetuate them, needs to be found in the failures of the past as well as the successes at all levels.
R Paralysis by Analysis – The difficulties imposed by complexity, the lack of perfect understanding, and a method of dealing with these problems through denial, make finding solutions more difficult. The paralysis is also made worse by a system of progress based on the need for those that perceive the potential negative effects to provide sufficient evidence commiserate with the systems being questioned. In the case of the global economic system, this imposes a difficult problem, since the scales which perpetuate it are unimaginably large.
R Disconnection from Nature – We currently focus primarily on the level of our own lives rather than that of seven generations or the continual evolution of nature. Our connection with nature and time needs to be re-established.
In practice we can see these difficulties. If we look back at cigarettes, CFC usage and lead in gasoline we find these principles at play. In each case the horrific delay in dealing with the deadly affects of these products can be attributed to some, if not all, of these difficulties. These products were not initially understood as their impact took some time to take effect. The massive scale of the economic system that depended on these products made their removal a costly prospect. Eventually as the connections to problems were made, denial set in. Driven by a need for continued profits questions of ethics are thrown out the window. Even as the deadly effects are proven and bans on the products take effect in the first word, the third world is still being sold these killers. The media was limited in effectiveness at communicating the urgency with clarity. Even as the problems were recognized the complexity of taking action needlessly destroyed lives far into the future.
In the case of CFC destruction of our ozone, the deadly effects still are being imposed on future generation through sales in the third world. The effects will be with us for a hundred years after the last CFC is created.
Our continued use of nuclear, coal and fossil fuels suggests we still don't get it. Certainly the dependence on these products is broad and massive in scale. Much like cigarettes, CFCs and lead in gasoline, we are lead to believe that we don't have an alternative. Somehow we've rationalized the deadly long term effects of the pollution left by these sources of power, whether due to their distance from where we live, our lack of ability to make the connection to the pollution in our air, or our inability to imagine a terrorist dropping a commercial air plane into a nuclear power plant. Even once entering these into the realm of possibility you run up against the barrage of complexity, misinformation, lies, myths, and false advertising directed at maintaining the status quo. In reality we can live as comfortably as we do today without nuclear, coal or fossil fuels…my family and I are proving that, as are many others. You'll find it hard to cope with the contradictions of engineers, scientists, and politicians on all sides of the issue as they muddle things up, relate unrelated facts, use the popular method of magicians to distract you from the main issues, and in some cases simply lie or worse make false statements based on ignorance.
The way I've seen some of this manifest is, for instance, in our local community newspaper an article that discussed wind power, and even suggest that with 14,000 wind turbines, the province of Ontario, where I live, could supply all of the required electricity we need. Well, then the experts leap into the fray with comments about how wind power is insufficiently regular, and all those wind turbines would blanket our landscape…ugh. The answer, we must have nuclear or coal or gas…because well we know that seems to work…never mind the pollution, cost overruns, or the facts about their deadly effects. We all, including myself, have the habit, natural I suppose, of color coating our own point of view, while simplifying, to the point of stupidity, that which we argue against.
My own experience has shown that nothing is easy and simple to achieve in isolation. If fact, one of the great revelations I've come across is that we succeed best by taking a holistic approach. In the case of my own home we also are taking an organic, step-by-step approach to achieving our goal of eliminating the use of fossil fuels. Of course we've insulated and used passive solar design to maximize the direct use of heat from the sun in the winter. This by itself is not enough energy for our daily needs, although perhaps another design would improve the deficit. Since our heating system uses an in-line electric water heater to heat our floors on winter days when we don't get any sunlight we need to boost our renewable energy production. We started with ten photovoltaic solar panels on the roof. Unfortunately these don't produce much of their 400 watts of rated generation during our short winter days. Next we added a 1 kwh wind turbine. Now, as the wind blows exceptionally hard, especially in the winter, we've made a 25% dent in our use of electrical power provided by the grid (cold winter winds also have the benefit of being denser the warm winds thus producing…actually transforming more energy). We've still got about 75% of additional grid power to eliminate in order to be 100% renewable energy based. With the addition this coming fall of a solar water heating system, a doubling in the size of the solar photo voltaic system (to be combined as a shading system for the south side of the house), and perhaps a second wind turbine we will achieve our goals.
Now, when we apply this type of holistic evolutionary approach on a community, provincial or national basis we can do what the experts say is impossible. There is a way to eliminate the nuclear and fossil fuel power plants, but it might be a fair bit more interesting than erecting 14,000 wind turbines. By the way, I am not sure 14,000 wind turbines in reasonable locations around Ontario isn't possible either…which is another issue. We have a hard time understanding the scale and impact of these types of changes. Eco-cities like this have been envisioned. However, like so many brilliant ideas of the past, the initial reaction by the mainstream has been to mock them and use words like "impossible", ugly, dangerous, silly, unrealistic, too expensive and to dismiss them. Impossible has become a key word for me to suggest that this may very well be the precise place to look the hardest. It would be as simple as taking the $2 billion in subsidies that currently goes to fossil/nuclear each year (in Canada), and building the 1,000 turbines with that money each year for the next fourteen years. That is just the subsidies given by the government to fossil fuel/nuclear providers. Imagine if some significant holistic investment was made to support individuals and corporations use of renewable energy systems:
We need to make a critical transformation in our common understanding of our place in the world. Humans are a part of nature. We are constrained by its laws. We need to understand these laws as much as possible. Our health and our long-term viability depend on this understanding of nature and the complex ecosystems it sustains and that in turn sustain us. This understanding of nature is far more vital than our concern for the economy.
We "externalize" problems we find too complex or difficult to solve. Instead we find it easier to focus on the simpler ones like money and self-interest.
"If industry pollutes our favorite stream, poor logging practices destroy vital salmon habitat, or CFCs deplete the ozone layer, we say we have environmental problems. We 'externalize' the issue (to use the economists' unconsciously revealing term). There is little real appreciation that the problem – and ultimately the solution – resides within us. Indeed, when we do act to improve matters, the frequent response is a technical fix aimed at enabling society to carry on pretty much as before. Stream contaminated? Build a swimming pool and chlorinate the drinking water (or import it in bottles from France)." (Fatal Consumption,pg 22).
The problem is not out there. It is in you and me. We have a choice to pollute or not to pollute, waste or not to waste. We can find alternatives. The difficulty turns out more often than not to be you and me. For every problem there are answers. We have a choice and a duty to find and implement them.
The reality of our own existence simply isn't very sane. We focus on money. We try to make our lives as easy as possible. We are building strong economies that serve the wealthy minority:
"Driven by an uncritical worship of economic growth, it seems that consumption by humans threatens to overwhelm the ecosphere from within. This is clearly a pathological relationship. The continuous growth of any species in nature is an unnatural condition that can be purchased only at the expense of other species and the integrity of the ecosystem as a whole. Indeed, any relationship in which the vitality of one organism is sustained by sapping the vitality of another is, by definition, a parasitic one. The distinguishing feature of parasitism is 'the subversion, co-option, or undermining of the self-regenerative or autopoietic capacity of the host.' (Peacock 1995) 'Looked at from the point of view of other organisms, humankind resembles an acute epidemic disease, whose occasional lapses into less virulent forms of behavior have never yet sufficed to permit any really stable chronic relationship to establish itself' (McNeill 1979, cited in Peacock 1995). While it may seem extreme to interpret humans and their economy in such unsavory terms, it may also be wholly realistic. If we don't understand the problem, we have little chance of finding workable solutions." (Fatal Consumption,pg 24).
Clearly we must have the wisdom to accept our own involvement in this process. Without this deep understanding of ourselves and our society we will come up short with our solutions. In the end this deep, albeit horrible, understanding of ourselves is yet again another opportunity to take this knowledge and use our creativity to find the answers. Denial unfortunately leads to a worsening of the parasitic and addictive situation in which we live.
You have to ask yourself, what is the destructive force that drives the current economic system? If it's so bad, why hasn't someone done something about it before? The answer seems to lie in the human tendency towards addiction and denial.
"Driven by an uncritical worship of economic growth, it seems that consumption by humans threatens to overwhelm the ecosphere from within. This is clearly a pathological relationship. The continuous growth of any species in nature is an unnatural condition that can be purchased only at the expense of other species and the integrity of the ecosystem as a whole." (pg. 23, Fatal Consumption, Woollard & Ostry)
This is by definition a parasitic relationship. As such the current human condition and systems of economics can be seen as a disease.
The world can't be seen as an open system that can sustain unlimited growth. In nature, for instance, this can be seen as a cancer. Instead we need to turn to a closed-system based economy that matches the limits of nature. On our space-ship earth, we all must learn to coexist in balance.
"Many biophysically oriented scientists agree that the 'full-world economics' proposed by Herman Daly will be an economics based on principles of ecology and the second law of thermodynamics. While the second law is arguably the ultimate governor of all economic activity, it is totally ignored in conventional economic models."
Conventional economics are based on the first law of thermodynamics. This law states that energy can be transformed but never created or destroyed and that the mass of the inputs will equal the mass of the outputs. This law has led economists to believe that we will never run out of anything as a simplified view of our world. Unfortunately there are changes in the forms of energy that do impose limits. The growing scale of economic production along with population growth now puts us in a position where we've exceeded natural limits. Our natural environment is being degraded. Non-renewable fossil fuels are being consumed at an increasing rate that will see some of them eliminated in our own lifetimes. We are increasing the speed at which we are exceeding these limits. We are on a crash course with one of the most fundamental laws of nature.
The fact is that our earth system will gradually become more disordered. In fact any organized system on earth will tend towards this disordered state. This applies to our economic systems, communities, countries and cities. Systems can only maintain the illusion of equilibrium through the constant input of highly organized energy, primarily solar energy, some of which was stored in fossil fuels over the millennia. Our current misconception lies in thinking that this perceived state of equilibrium is real. It is not. It can only be sustained by massive inputs of energy resulting in an increase in entropy, or lower quality energy, and more disorganization in the universe. The goal therefore should be the net balancing of entropy in our ecosystem. In the long run, this economic system can only work if it's based on the natural input of energy directly from the sun.
We need to start thinking of our current economic system as a system of consumption. Economics must take into account the second law of thermodynamics. "The second law [of thermodynamics] forces thus an uncomfortable reinterpretation of the nature of economic activity. In effect, it shows that what we usually think of as economic production is actually consumption–nature is the real producer." (Fatal Consumption, pg. 27).
The following quotes illustrate the effects of the second law of thermodynamics in the real world, not the theoretical one of current economic thinking:
"The populations of the so-called 'advanced' high-income countries are 75 percent or more urban, and estimates suggest that over 50 percent of the entire human population will be living in urban areas by the end of the century. If we accept the Bruntland Commission's estimate that the wealthy quarter of the world's population consumes over three-quarters of the world's resources (and therefore produces at least 75 percent of the waste), then the populations of the wealthy cities are responsible for about 60 percent of current levels of resource depletion and pollution. The global total contribution from cities is probably 70 percent or more.
In effect, cities have become entropic black holes drawing in energy and matter from all over the ecosphere and returning all of it in degraded form back to the ecosphere. This relationship is an inevitable expression of the second law of thermodynamics (cities are prime examples of highly ordered dissipative structures). This means that in the aggregate, cities (and the human economy) can operate sustainably only within the thermodynamic load-bearing capacity of the ecosphere. Beyond a certain point, the cost of material economic growth will be measured by increasing entropy or disorder in the environment. The enormous drain imposed on the ecosphere by high-income societies has changed consumption by humans into a planetary disease.
We would expect this point–the point at which consumption by humans chronically exceeds available natural income–to be revealed through the continuous depletion of natural capital: reduced biodiversity; fisheries collapse; air, water, and land pollution; deforestation; ozone depletion; desertification; and so on. Such trends are the subjects of daily headlines. We seem to be witnessing the 'destructuring' and dissipation of the ecosphere, a continuous increase in global net entropy. By this criterion, society should acknowledge that the present global economy is unsustainably bankrupt. With prevailing technology, it can grow and maintain itself only by simultaneously consuming and polluting its host environment. As argued by the World Bank ecologist Robert Goodland, '…current throughput growth in the global economy cannot be sustained' (Goodland, 1991). We have already reached the entropic limits to growth." (Fatal Consumption, pg 37)
This analysis suggests that the global economic system is highly unstable. Only communities that are sustainable based on their own local resources will return the world to a more stable and equitable state. Examples, like the region of Keral in India, show that it is possible to have a high quality of life with a low level of modern economic growth orientation. Thus the major hurdle we face,
"…the prospect of worldwide cooperation to forestall a disaster…seems far less likely where deeply entrenched economic and political interests are involved. Many contemporary values, attitudes, and institutions militate against international altruism. As widely interpreted today, human rights, economic interests, and national sovereignty would be factors in opposition. The cooperative task would require behavior that humans find most difficult: collective self-discipline in a common effort." (Fatal Consumption, pg. 43)
However, given a clear picture of the injustices, people have been able to rise up and fight in the name of truth and justice. Our current situation requires such a response. Clarity regarding the problems and causes is necessary in order to support the right action.
Symptoms such as global warming, deforestation, fisheries collapse, pollution that kills people and soil loss all suggest we have reached the limits of our ecological systems. We have "…reached an historic turning-point, a point at which the world must shift from the assumptions of "empty-world" to those of "full-world" economics (Daly 1991)." (Wollard & Ostry, Fatal Consumption, pg 24). We need an economic system that is subservient to the requirements of nature. Economies don't sustain us nor do they provide us with work. Only nature can do that. Economics needs to be limited by the laws of nature.
Laws of nature? What laws? Well, I found some and we'll discover many others as we discover Natural Living.
Living systems have six key features:
(Our Environment A Canadian Perspective, pg. 85)
The only sustainable economic system is one that maintains a sufficient level of natural capital for future generations, one that complies with the laws of nature. Any system that doesn't, and our current one doesn't, reduces this natural capital for future generations. If we don't do something now, our children will need to find a way of living that not only returns the balance in order to return natural capital to the levels we enjoy today but they also will need to live in a way that increases natural capital. This is a much more difficult task than balance. In effect, each step we take without balance means a larger deficit for our children. We need to act sooner rather than later.
"As to economic alternatives, the answer is quite familiar to all of us—indeed it is the answer which most of us already believe: democracy, market economics and an ethical culture. The self-organizing market is structured to respond in a highly democratic manner to human needs and values. We must concentrate on creating the conditions necessary to healthy market function. Since capitalism is the mortal enemy of democracy, markets and ethical culture, it should not be surprising that in most instances this means embracing policies exactly the opposite of those favored by capitalism.
Whereas capitalism prefers giant global corporate monopolies with the power to extract massive public subsidies and avoid public accountability, the efficient function of markets depends on rules that keep firms human-scale and require producers to internalize their costs. Whereas capitalism institutionalizes a system of absentee ownership that keeps owners far removed from the consequences of their choices, a proper market economy favors ownership by real stakeholders—workers, owners, suppliers, customers, and communities—to bring human sensibilities to economic decision making. Whereas capitalism prefers the economic man or woman to the ethical man or woman, a proper market economy assumes an ethical culture that nurtures in its participants a mindfulness of the social and environmental consequences of their behavior. Whereas capitalism encourages and rewards the speculator, a proper market encourages and rewards those who contribute to wealth creation through their labor and productive investment. Whereas capitalism places the rights of money above the rights of people and seeks to free it from restriction by national borders, a proper market seeks to guarantee the rights of people over the rights of money and honors borders as essential to the maintenance of economic health." (Only Connect, pg. 1996)
These dilemmas suggest we may not be asking the right questions. Does it make sense to be focused upon getting rich while others get poor? In their book, The Sacred Balance, Suzuki and McConnel, suggest asking more relevant questions such as
"What is an economy for?" and "How much is enough?" and "What are the things in life that provide joy and happiness, peace of mind and satisfaction? Does the plethora of goods that our high production economy delivers so effectively provide the route to happiness and satisfaction, or do the relationships between human and nonhuman beings still form the core of the important things in life? Is the uniformity of food and other products that we now encounter everywhere on the globe an adequate substitute for the different and the unexpected?"
In the daily grind of ordinary life, it's very difficult to keep these fundamental questions at the forefront. Instead, the typical routine–the institutionalized process of daily life consumes us, dulling our ability to think of the right questions. We appear to have been hypnotized into the rhythmic pace of modern economic life.
Playing it safe, I've been taught, means saving for the future. Since the government and pension plans no longer give us the security required for our later years, we've got to save for ourselves. People I work with have told me I'd be crazy not to be investing in retirement savings plans. Even worse, once that money is socked away, you would be nuts to touch it. I do understand that the money, the numbers might lead one to believe this. To some extent, however, this is a trap that ensures the continuity of the way things are now. If they were sustainable that might be fine. They aren't. So I have cashed in a portion of my retirement money to invest in solar panels and a wind turbine. You'd have to be nuts according to current financial advice. But, as we've seen, there is much more to life than money. Besides the stocks I bought weren't doing very well anyways. I think it is the economic system that is nuts.
Why aren't more people achieving a sustainable lifestyle? Once you make the decision to change, even though all of the technology, information and resources do exist, there are difficulties getting the credit or loans necessary to implement the solutions. Without this availability of capital it becomes difficult for any but the rich to finance the types of projects that will provide payback for the substantial up-front investment. As the authors of Who Owns the Suns? say:
"…the real challenge for the solar movement is to enable the widespread adoption of energy-efficiency techniques and solar technologies by making available capital and credit to a much broader range of people. Without access to credit, few Americans will be able to afford the tools needed to generate electricity and heat with sunlight. Just imagine what would happen to new-car sales without automobile loans!"
Once again, under the current economic models that favor big business, this access to credit and the lack of true costs in electricity, for instance, make the costs seem prohibitive, and pay back times too long. We have to resolve these inequities so that the principles of natural systems, which underlie everything, are allowed to play their required role in a true market system. This will unleash the power of real natural capital in favor of solar energy and nature.
Like any good accountant we must start by reviewing our current book of accounts. As in any enterprise our balance sheet may give us clue as to our financial health. The following startling numbers were reported in our local newspaper called "In The Hills", Vol. 8, No. 3, 2001. Sadly, the mass media never seems to get things this simple. Just imagine your business being run on this type of fiscal regime.
R Size of the earth's surface: 51 billion hectares.
R The size of productive land and sea on earth: 12.5 billion hectares
R Current population of earth: 6 billion
R The amount of productive land per person (assuming nothing is left for other species) : 2 hectares
R The amount humans use on average globally: 2.8 hectares
R The average for Canadians: 7.8 hectares.
R DEFICIT -5.8 hectares
Plainly we need a new fiscal regime. In fact it would appear that our mission, our business, our way of life needs major adjustments. This type of global balance sheet simply is not sustainable. Just imagine when the current 6 billion people increase to 10 billion people on this earth. Just try to imagine if they all required 7.8 hectares of productive land each. Obviously we are heading for bankruptcy. These are the plans of the World Bank, UN and IMF. Why are we told it is more complicated than this? Simply speaking, our leadership, the large multi-national corporations, the mass-media, world governance, national governments and the rich few are in denial. We are living in a dream that is leading to nightmare not just for ourselves but for our children.
How dare we change? What must we overcome? Unfortunately the primitive forces of fear, power and selfishness run strong among us. These traits succeed best in the current global economic system that we have developed. What does this lead to?
The devastating effects of the most powerful among us litter the world. This institutionalized system of economic terrorism has left billions to starve to death. However, the institutionalized nature of the system allows the rich few to rationalize their treachery in the veiled name of development. This system must be made visible so that justice can be done. We have to confront the fear, power, hate and self-interest that sustains capitalism as currently practiced. Only truth and love have the power to overcome these institutionalized systems. That means a better, fairer, more inspired set of ideas. We must apply the principles of truth and love in support of nature. Only in nature can we find the laws that are universal. Only in the universal laws will we find the elimination of fear, power, hate and self-interest. There is no self in nature. We are one with everything else.
Something that we will find hard but necessary to accept is that we all have been manipulated. The constant billion dollar campaigns of advertising, PR, lobbying, think tanks, professional consultants, and sales people are all driven to create a culture in which the consumer, you and I, buy what we are told we need with false proofs, and under the terrible tactics of fear. Unless we can see this propaganda for what it is we have little hope of overcoming it. It is deeply engrained in society. Much of it was formed before many of us were even born and we have accepted its foundations without question as the norm:
"It is interesting that since 1998 the Soviet government brainwashed its people by consistently lying to them, but its techniques were so clumsy that the people knew they were being brainwashed. By contrast, in the United States, corporations became expert manipulators, so most people have swallowed the corporate doctrine whole." (If You Love This Planet, pg 161)
These are not easy concepts to accept or rationalize. They would suggest that we may not have full control over the development of our thoughts. In this knowledge we must be prepared to question even our own current thinking. This experience for me can best be described as coming to terms with a kind of insanity from which I suffer, one that was not of my own making, but that nevertheless has been perpetrated against my brain since the moment I was born. Accepting this, I am able to work through "my own" supposed assumptions, beliefs, principles, and thought patterns to try and measure whether they are true, or the simple remnants of past manipulation. Do I really like McDonalds? Is Esso my favorite gas station because they provide the best energy source? What is missing from my life when I watch more hours of television, and how does it affect me and my thoughts? We each must ask the hard questions and search for the real truth.
Our idea of progress has meant the never-ending innovation of tools, machines, medicine and systems designed to "make life easier". We see progress in the technology of air travel, washing machines, cars, farm productivity, and a life of greater leisure than our ancestors. We've sent men to the moon and back, and lost the designs for how to do it. The incredible advances in science have enabled the transformation of atomic energy into electricity, provided drugs that prevent or cure some of the most horrendous diseases that have plagued humanity, all in the name of progress. Some of the greatest advances in technology have been achieved by the United States military, which isn't that surprising considering they have received the largest share of tax dollars, in the name of "defense", providing biological warfare, nuclear missiles, stealth capabilities and even "star wars". The military build-up led by the United States was also developed in the name of progress. Military progress is justified as a defense under the aptly named MAD (mutually assured destruction) banners which provide the much desired "security" we all supposedly want. Is this really progress, or have we been sold lies, brainwashed, and betrayed?
The truth is that much of what we've been sold as progress simply isn't. We've created a world of have and have not, rich and poor. We have created lifestyles full of artificial barriers and eliminated a sense of connection with nature, each other, and to our own humanity. This artificial system has the rich few destroying the environment at the expense of the majority who live in terrible poverty. This system is of our own making. It is sustained partly by our own lack of empathy, which in part has been created by the brainwashing that surrounds us from the moment we are born.
The current economic system has been thrust upon us without our consent, creating a disconnection from each other and the natural living world that sustains us. The irony is that our highly sophisticated system of deductive research in science has finally come full circle. Where once, in the name of progress, science created the most destructive products of our modern world, now, finally, science is screaming, "Stop!". This path we are on is killing us. We need to develop a much broader view of progress. We need a vision that integrates nature, partnership, complex systems of ecology, a rational view of "the good life", and what life can be. We must fundamentally change our priorities, our beliefs, our views of this world, of ourselves, our place, and our relationship to each other.
It's not enough to develop an understanding of the depths of the difficulties we need to overcome. We have to transform this new understanding into a lasting process for changing ourselves. We need to find ways of fighting the most powerful forces in the universe that are lined up against us. What can provide you with the strength of will to carry out the necessary changes? The answers are not easy. They are, however, as old, true and faithful as nature.
In his book, Earth in the Balance, Al Gore tells us what factors led to his extraordinary commitment to solving "environmental" issues. These factors, which he has shared openly, point towards the first step. He says in the introduction to his book "For many more months, our lives were completely consumed with the struggle to restore his body and spirit. And for me something changed in a fundamental way. I don't think my son's brush with death was solely responsible, although that was the catalyst." This catalyst, along with others that came together in a very short period of time, gave Al Gore a "new sense of urgency about those things I value the most." What do we value the most…what should we…what does nature teach us to value?
For me, those catalysts were the birth of my children, that moment when they appeared in this world and I broke down and cried in joy. That memory of my deep love, my need to express my joy, their joy, my need to protect and nurture these perfect extensions of me, are the driving forces that enable me to work as hard as I can to see through the current veil surrounding the destruction of nature. Each day now I try to look for the most effective and creative solutions.
This kind of life change is enlightening. Our ability as humans allows us to tap into the emotion of consciousness, empathy, connectedness, compassion, love, and truth. These are the required tools for realizing a life change is required. The terrible specter of massive environmental destruction, the horrific disasters that may lie ahead, and the slow invisible changes that may be killing us need not be the only, or even the primary catalysts. Instead, as in my own case, I believe that the catalyst of truth, love, beauty and connection to my children, and to nature are the most powerful. These creative forces of truth are far more life affirming. Only the power of love within these catalysts is strong enough to weather the long-term work required to justify it.
The effectiveness of this kind of life change is extraordinary. This kind of change is fundamental. It is within. It is based on a truth that can sustain the short-term difficulties. Another story that suggests the seeds of the new way of thinking that we must all embrace,
"But I believe deeply that true change is possible only when it begins inside the person who is advocating it. Mahatma Gandhi said it well: 'We must be the change we wish to see in the world.' And a story about Gandhi – recounted by Craig Schindler and Gary Lapid–provides a good illustration of how hard it is to 'be the change.' Gandhi, we are told, was approached one day by a woman who was deeply concerned that her son ate too much sugar. 'I am worried about his health,' she said. 'He respects you very much. Would you be willing to tell him about its harmful effects and suggest he stop eating it?' After reflecting on the request, Gandhi told the woman that he would do as she requested, but asked that she bring here son back in two weeks, no sooner. In two weeks, when the boy and his mother returned, Gandhi spoke with him and suggested that he stop eating sugar. When the boy complied with Gandhi's suggestion, his mother thanked Gandhi extravagantly–but asked him why he had insisted on the two-week interval. 'Because', he replied, 'I needed the two weeks to stop eating sugar myself.' "
Can we stop eating the sugar? Can we find the will to live by our principles? Are we creative enough to figure out these complex problems and their solutions within the confines of our principles and natures principles? Can we connect with each other so that our own transformations make a difference, by changing others?
As if brainwashing, false visions of progress and self-interest were not enough we must also wrestle with addictions. Some of the legacy of our evolutionary origins has left us with traits that make us susceptible to addictions. Some of these may have served a natural purpose in our primitive past. However, under the powerful influence of the media these traits have led us to become addicted to a way of life. That way of life is not sustainable. Despite the knowledge that it may lead to our ultimate downfall and death, we find it hard to admit we have this addiction. In so many ways this addiction to consumer goods for instance seems like "progress". How on earth could everything that we've come to associate with the "good life"–the information age, the technological age, and the age of automation, which we see as improving our lives, be an addiction? As Helen Caldicott says:
"We have become addicted to our way of life and to our way of thinking. We must drive our cars, use our clothes dryers, smoke our cigarettes, drink our alcohol, earn a profit, look good, behave in a socially acceptable fashion, and never speak out of turn or speak the truth, for fear of rejection…The problem with addicted people, communities, corporations, or countries is that they tend to lie, cheat, or steal to get their fix. Corporations are addicted to profit and governments to power, and as Henry Kissinger once said, 'Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.'…The only way to break addictive behavior is to love and cherish something more than the addiction…In the industrialized world, and indeed in most of the Third World now, governments are more and more run and organized by a few corporations. But the corporatization of government is not conducive to global survival, as we have seen. A corporate mentality encourages greed, selfishness, and consumerism, not compassion for people or for nature."
I have dedicated my life over the last several years to the creation of a lifestyle sustained by nature and solar energy. To a large degree our inability to admit we have a problem poses one of the greatest difficulties. As I have learned the hard way this difficult first step is necessary. Unfortunately for most of us this first step does not take place, without a major, often traumatic, difficult crisis. This crisis often leads to an emotional and mental break down. If we are lucky we remember what really matters: those we love and if we are lucky, they are still willing to support us despite our moments of insanity and denial. I believe that we are addicted to a way of life that is destroying nature. Our current global society is destroying the environment that sustains us. Thus we are destroying ourselves slowly but surely.
There are some obvious similarities to the destruction caused by alcoholism. I had to admit that I was an alcoholic several years ago. It was quite literally destroying my family and had jeopardized my job, right in the middle of my quest to achieve a sustainable lifestyle. At the point at which I thought I would lose everything I found the courage to admit I had this problem. To make sure I was tested (do you drink every day, do you binge and forget what happened…). Sure enough I was assessed as being an alcoholic. Although at first I did not want to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting I finally did. They gave me their book that includes the twelve-step program.
The idea of admitting my problem with a group of people like myself, alcoholics, was difficult at first. And yet, as each person related their problems, ones so similar to my own, it became easier for me to do the same. Acknowledging this problem and the problems it caused my family, was critical…how else, I discovered could they ever have been solved if I didn't acknowledge or admit they exist and that I was responsible for them. I also learned that it can help a great deal to make right my past wrongs. I forced myself to find the people I had wronged, try to apologize, and ultimately make right what I could. This effort took many years in some cases. Even at the point when I thought it had failed to make any difference I came to realize later that it had. Certainly my ideas for Natural Living have been influenced by these experiences. As I relate here and elsewhere our current lifestyle is to some extent an addiction. For some of us these types of steps can help a great deal in resolving these addictions, although, as they say, we must always be mindful, as we will always be recovering.
Collectively we need to look each other in the eyes and listen. When it is our turn we need to try to admit that we do cause some of the problems, explain which ones, and then, if we are ready, make a vow to try to change the addictive habit. I drive a car that pollutes the air and kills people. I have driven it when it wasn't all that necessary. I am a polluter.
I think I've found a program that can help us out of this nightmare. It is the story of Natural Living that follows in the next two sections of this book. We must not be afraid to look the problem in the eye as we have done in this section of the book. On the other hand dwelling here doesn't solve the problems either. First, you must accept that these problems exist, that you have a problem, and that you are responsible for changing your life and making right the wrongs. It is a wonderful journey but the key is taking the first step. Rather than shame, you should feel a great inner strength, a welling up of love that will drive you through the remainder of the steps that we must all take to rid ourselves of these addictions.