Monday, March 26, 2012

A future only a mother could love

You gentlemen are making a great mistake. The exchange is a perfect institution.

(Richard Whitney, president of the New York Stock Exchange during the crash of 1929)

I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and gas run out before we tackle that.

(Thomas Edison, in conversation with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, 1931)

We want ours

China and India together have more than two billion people, approximately a quarter of the world's population, a fact that ought not to elicit unrestrained optimism for planet Earth and its inhabitants, in spite of the economic “successes” of both countries, especially China.

Of course we can hope that China and India will somehow get it right in the not too distant future, but the pressure to improve life for the millions and the attempt to expand the middle class is likely to only speed up the unsustainable treadmill, as the search across the globe for finite resources becomes even more frenzied and destructive. We probably don't have another 100 years to finally realize we went down the wrong path.

Try to imagine

Curt Stager, paleoclimatologist, has written an interesting book on the theoretical what if. Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth asks us to look at the possibilities of what could happen to our planet and ultimately to all life on it. What happens after global warming? is one of the questions Stagner raises. What might we do now to avert the worst possibilities?

What to do

While too much time has already been spent complaining about the climate denialists or corporate misinformation or political corruption or even public ignorance—certainly in the United States—we have not done a lot of thinking about our ability to tell stories effectively. It's the creative narrative that needs to be created.

Yes, as has been said, scientists need to become better storytellers when it comes to science and the public—like it or not. But the rest of us have a part to play. The Occupy movement has taught us that we can change the same old tired narrative and create a compelling new story. It is however not a part-time effort. So what are we willing to do?

What we need to invent … are ways in which farsightedness can become a habit of the citizenry of the diverse peoples of this planet.

(Margaret Mead, Atmospheric Science Conference, North Carolina, 1975)

Additional reading:

Monday, March 19, 2012

The real death eaters: destroying the will to live

WARNING: This film shows cruelty to animals.

May we live long and die out.

(The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement)

It's only economics

The unraveling of global capitalism over the past few years has diverted our attention from a great many things. A lot of us, especially in the West, have come to realized that the word “precarious” may not just apply to the images of starving children in some faraway land. An unease has now settled over a good part of the developed world as well.

But what has been flying under the radar, at least in the mainstream media, is the on-going devastation of forests throughout the world and wildlife in general. Part of this increasing destruction is due to the expanding middle class in east Asia.

We should not be surprised that the acquisition of “stuff” is a hallmark of our global economic system along with the insatiable need to demonstrate economic success among individuals, regardless of where they reside.

Let the people speak

Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us, has suggested that around two billion people is probably the “ideal” human population for the maintenance of a healthy, viable planet. This was the world population near the end of the 19th century.

While we now have more than 7 billion people on Earth today we could, surprisingly, by the end of the 21st century theoretically reduce our population by some five billion, if all fertile females had only one child over the next 88 years, according to various demographic studies that have been completed over the past several years.

Clearly this is not likely to happen during the next 100 years for a number of reasons, some all too familiar, but slowing population growth and reducing our levels of consumption are very much in our self-interest and in our ultimate survival as a species.

The rise in the price of ivory has, by some estimates, resulted in nearly one-third of the elephant population in the Cameroons being killed for their tusks. The rhinoceros on the other hand is being butchered because in some parts of Asia ground up rhino tusks are believed to improve sexual potency. Of course, tiger paws have always been considered a delicacy for the well to do and can be found in only the “very best” restaurants.

The video, Green: Death of the Forests, is emotional and difficult to watch. There is no commentary whatsoever. The images of a dying orangutan speak for themselves. We are all responsible.

As a species we are the biggest criminals on the planet. Every day we rape the planet, shed blood and cause suffering.

(Patrick Rouxel, filmmaker)

P.S. In the United States we continue to slaughter wolves for no rational reason … other than we can.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The universe is the way it is

Forget Jesus, the stars died so you could be here today.

(Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist)

A good painter has two chief objects to paint: man and the intention of his soul. The former is easy, the latter hard.

( Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1490)

A microcosm of sacredness

Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a film by Werner Herzog, takes us through Chauvet Cave in southern France, where we are surrounded by the oldest human-painted images yet found on Earth, wall paintings that may take us back some 35,000 years ago.

Palaeolithic artists at the Chauvet Cave have left us with more than 400 painted or engraved animals, some species long extinct, an astonishing collection. Far more than any Gothic cathedral or world famous museum I've ever visited, I felt I was in the presence of long forgotten, sacred human dreams.

Yes, as Lawrence Krauss reminds us, we humans are probably more insignificant than we ever imagined. After all, we're just stardust, because every atom in our body came from a star that exploded. Yet, following the camera as it meandered through this extraordinary cave in France, it was impossible not to be in awe at the convergence of those “magical” atoms that took up residence on one insignificant planet at the edge of one ordinary galaxy. Even so, I couldn't shake the sadness I felt as well.

Call me Vitruvius

Many of us are familiar, as Toby Lester author of Da Vinci's Ghost points out, with the famous drawing by Leonardo da Vinci of a naked man in a circle and a square. It has become pop art, showing up on wall paper, coffee mugs and corporate logos.

For da Vinci however it represented the human body as the world in miniature. The circle had been long associated with the divine and the square with the secular and the earthly. Leonardo took the ideas of the Roman engineer and architect Vitruvius, who lived around 25 b.c., and ultimately concluded that the design of the human body reflected that of the universe, which would reveal the entire world. Leonardo wanted to see deep into both our body and soul, an ambitious undertaking even for a genius like da Vinci.

Seeking or not

With our unique human narcissism it's hardly surprising that we created an infinite number of supernatural entities to justify our own special immortality. Of course I knew why I felt the sadness as I watched Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Why could we not have done better than we have I was thinking. But even if we human went extinct what would it matter to the universe? Then again, it might matter in some way to the flora and fauna still here. It was an answer I could live with, for the time being.

There is no WHY, since the moment simply is, and since all of us are simply trapped in the moment, like a bug in Amber.

(Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-5)

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