We do not have a democracy in the United States. Any country where only half of the eligible voters are registered and where only half of those who are registered vote and where only half of those who vote like their choice is not a democracy. Any country that isn’t ruled by its government, that is ruled instead by the Fortune 500, isn’t a democracy. And any world government that is ruled by transnational corporations isn’t a democracy. Yet such is the state of our national and global governments. According to my definition, a corporation is, right now, by law, a lawyer’s attempt to create something that can act like a person without a conscience. If you are a CEO or a member of the Board of Directors of a corporation that bypasses an opportunity for profit, you can be sued by the stockholders! There should at least be something written into law that says you can bypass it for sound social or ecological reasons. If you’re asked to invest, there should be an Environmental Impact Statement on what your money is going to do to the Earth. If you’re going to take over a company because it is trying to operate with a conscience and it’s making all the money it can and that’s why you’re trying to take it over, there should certainly be an Environmental Impact Statement on that. All of these conditions should be required. We should bring this about and see if we can instill ecological conscience into corporate behavior. If that happened, I think we’d be pretty well off.
Well, that’s my opener. Next I thought I’d deal a little bit with perspective, just for fun. I’ve got three things to play with here. First, I finally heard from a space scientist about pulsars and how dense they are. If you were the density of a pulsar, you would weigh exactly what you weigh, of course, because that’s your density, but you would occupy only one quadrillionth—one quadrillionth—of your present space. How big is one quadrillionth? I did a rough calculation, maybe slipped a decimal place or two, but it seems to me that if you take a cross section of a spider web, just a little slice through it, that’s it. The rest of you, then, is open space. If you have that as perspective, you can begin to realize what a pulsar is like: lots of space but on a very, very small scale. It’s almost staggering to think about. Loren Eisley summed it up with one of my favorite quotes from him: we are compounded of dust and the light of a star.
Well, the next bit of perspective. How about this dust? Two scientists were discussing the Big Bang, and God leaned over their shoulders and said, “Which Big Bang?” We have the limitation that something has, or had, to start. Of course it didn’t have to start; it doesn’t have to end. Every time we get a better telescope, we find that “out is farther out than we ever thought. I guess if we ever got out there, we’d find that it still goes on. Why should it end? And if it doesn’t end, then it doesn’t have to begin. We just have that limitation because we, individually, have to begin or end. Now, I told that to somebody from India once, and she said, “Well, that’s pretty much our religion.”
The third exercise in perspective relates more to time. Squeeze the age of the Earth, four and a half billion years, into the Six Days of Creation for an instant replay. Creation begins Sunday midnight. No life until about Tuesday noon. Life comes aboard, with more and more species, more variety, more genetic variability. Millions upon millions of species come aboard, and millions leave. By Saturday morning at seven, there’s enough chlorophyll so that fossil fuels begin to form. At four o’clock in the afternoon, the great reptiles are onstage; at nine o’clock that night they’re hauled off. But they had a five-hour run.
Nothing like us appears until three or four minutes before midnight, depending on whose facts you like better. No Homo sapiens until a half minute before midnight. We got along as hunter-gatherers pretty well, but the population couldn’t have been very big; for those of you concerned about how many hunter-gatherers the Earth can sustain, the range I’ve heard is between five and twenty-five million people. Then we got onto this big kick: we wanted more of us, we wanted to push forests out of the way so we could feed more people. We wanted to shift from hunting and gathering to starch and thereby start the first big energy crisis (because the greatest energy shortage on Earth is of fuel wood). So we got into agriculture one and a half seconds before midnight. That recently. By the next half-second, we had been so successful that the forests ringing the Mediterranean Sea, for example, were reduced to the pitiful fragments that are the Cedars of Lebanon. That was in one half-second. At about the end of that half-second—we’re now one second before midnight—after all this time of life being on Earth we began to invent religions.
If I could go back to a point in history to try to get things to come out differently, I would go back and tell Moses to go up the mountain again and get the other tablet. Because the Ten Commandments just tell us what we’re supposed to do with one another, not a word about our relationship with the Earth (at least not according to any of the translations I’ve seen so far). Genesis starts with these commands: multiply, replenish the Earth, and subdue it. We have multiplied very well, we have replenished our population very well, we have subdued all too well, and we don’t have any other instruction! The Catholic church just put “stewardship” in its vocabulary within the last seven or eight years!
So here we are now, a third of a second before midnight: Buddha. A quarter of a second: Christ. A fortieth of a second: the industrial revolution. We began to change ecosystems a great deal with agriculture, but now we can do it with spades—coal-powered, fossil-fuel-powered spades. We begin taking the Earth apart, getting ideas about what we can do, on and on, faster and faster. At one-eightieth of a second before midnight we discover oil, and we build a civilization that depends on it. Then, at two-hundredths of a second, we discover how to split the atom, and we begin the GNP race. (I’ve been told it was the Soviets who started it, and the United States didn’t want anybody to have a grosser national product than ours.) But that’s not the race we need; we must change how we think about GNP.
That reminds me of a paradigm shift I’ve had in mind recently. Through the years I’ve been quoting Adlai Stevenson in the last speech he gave as our ambassador to the United Nations. It was July 1965 when he said:
We travel together, passengers on a little space ship, dependent upon its vulnerable reserves of air and soil, all committed for our safety to its security and peace, preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and I will say the love we give our fragile craft. We cannot maintain it half fortunate and half miserable, half confident, half despairing, half slave to the ancient enemies of mankind and half free in a liberation of resources undreamed-of until this day. No craft, no crew can travel safely with such vast contradictions. On their resolution depends the survival of us all.
I wish every person who ever occupied the Oval Office had heard this passage and committed it to memory and done something about it; it would be a totally different world right now if that had happened. But I think Adlai Stevenson, if he were here now, might accept an editorial suggestion or two. One, we have not liberated resources; we are extirpating resources. Two, let’s rethink: our global conditions are not so clearly defined as to be half one way and half another way; it’s more like 5 percent and 95 percent in the inequity quotient of this Earth.
So what is happening? I think we’re getting better and better at having despair and needing to have it. But I’ll tell you about the people of Ladakh, the place in India where Helena Norberg-Hodge has been working for half of every year for the past seventeen years. She is trying to bring information from Ladakh to us while also trying to prevent too much of our information from getting to them (unfortunately, she’s losing that struggle a little bit). The Sierra Club has just come out with a book entitled Ancient Futures, with pictures of the people in Ladakh. When you look at these pictures, there’s no great evidence of wealth there, but there is evidence of something else. You see some of the most beautiful faces; you see some of the nicest smiles; you see some inner happiness that you don’t see in our supermarkets or on Park Avenue. Where is the despair?
Another thing that is happening is that we are not getting the truth. This is “the Era of Disinformation.” Let me tell you a true story about a Cree Indian who came down to a city for the first time, to a courtroom, and sat in the witness chair and was asked, “Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” And his answer, according to the interpreter, was: “I can’t tell the truth; I can only say what I know.” That is so beautiful. It has something in it that we, including environmentalists, lack an awful lot of: it has humility. It’s true for all of us, because we don’t know the truth.
To take that further, it seems to me that the more we know, the less we know. I have a beautiful example of that, relating to genetic diversity. When Bernie Frank was the head of the Division of Forest Influences, United States Forest Service—and this must have been during the late 1950s—he said, “We know next to nothing about forest soils.” If there was anything known about forest soils, that’s where it would have been known. Four years ago, at a conference in Berkeley on restoring the Earth, we had some experts on mycorhizal fungi, fungi that live in symbiotic relationships with the roots of most tree and plant species. These experts have been studying them for quite awhile, they’re learning more and more about how many different species of mycorhizal fungi there are and how complicated the relationships are between the fungi and the roots, but they still can’t define these relationships exactly. As for the general knowledge of forest soils in the forest industry, forestry schools, and Forest Service today, it is even less than it was thirty-five years ago.
E. O. Wilson tells us in The Diversity of Life that there are something like four thousand different species of bacteria per pinch of soil. We are familiar with the concept of genetic diversity—according to Wilson we have identified 1.4 million species of plants and animals—but we have no idea how many more exist. The estimates I’ve heard range from five to eighty million! So, as we discover more, we discover that we know less and less about more and more. This is something that should instill some humility into us. It should give us the idea that our agricultural binge—our whole Industrial Age binge—cannot go on. We need to rethink, and our institutions are not ready for it.
To return to the “instant replay”: let’s back up to a hundredth of a second before midnight. That’s when I was born; I mention this for one reason: a huge amount of environmental destruction has taken place since the early 1900s. The population of the Earth has tripled. The population of California has gone up by a factor of twelve. The Earth as a whole has used four times as many resources in those brief eighty years as in all previous history. In our great state of California we had, when I was born, six thousand miles of salmon streams; now we’re down to two hundred. We had roughly 80 percent of the original stand of Redwoods, which grow nowhere else but California (except for a few migrants that slipped into Oregon, not knowing what they were doing); that 80 percent is down to 4 1/2 percent. I go into these numbers because all of this has happened in eighty years.
How many people here are over eighty? You mean I’m the elder here? Well, thank you. Indigenous peoples respect their elders, but the people in this so-called “civilization” want to send their elders out to pasture. I don’t believe in pasteurized elders!
All right, how many people here are under twenty? There are a number of you, and that’s good, because that’s the age group, twenty and under, that we’ve got to start thinking about, because they are going to have to live with consequences that we never even had to contemplate.
In the past twenty years we have created enough new, man-made deserts—I say “man-made” because women had very little to do with it—to equal the area of cropland in China. We’ve lost soil through erosion, paving, development, condominiums, suburbia, and inundation by such things as the nonrenewable hydroelectric development in Quebec (the first stage of which, in the James Bay project, inundated four thousand square miles of forest). Now, if you’ve just learned that there may be four thousand species of bacteria per pinch of soil and you think of the things we’re throwing at that soil to get more and faster productivity, you realize that we’re on the wrong track. We’re wiping out species before we have the foggiest idea that they’re there. As Noel Brown of the United Nations Environment Program put it, we may already have destroyed the cure for AIDS. Jay Hair of the National Wildlife Federation tells that when his daughter was three, her doctor said, “She has four days to live,” and when he told that story a few years ago, she was then in college, doing all right. The medicine that cured her disease was derived from the rosy periwinkle, which grew only in Madagascar and is now extinct. We’re wiping out species everywhere we can possibly reach.
So now it’s midnight, and there’s a new day coming. What are you going to do with it? You’re going to have an important role in what happens in this new day or the next six days or whatever it may be.
But I don’t think we’re quite ready for it. To begin with, we feel that we have to blame somebody. It’s none of us—none of us is guilty for all this, of course—so let’s blame the economists. I quote Hazel Henderson: “Economism is a form of brain damage.” I heard Fritz Schumacher, when he was lecturing out in Marin County, California, tell this story: There were three people arguing about whose profession was the oldest. The doctor said, “Mine is the oldest, because it took a procedure to get Eve out of Adam.” The architect said, “But it took an architect to build a universe out of Chaos.” And the economist said, “And who do you think created Chaos?” That is a beautiful story, and it should be carved in stone where the Schumacher Center for a New Economics has its headquarters. Hazel is an economist, and Fritz was an economist, and even they blame the economists!
Economists are in trouble because they leave out of their calculations two terribly important factors, which they name and do nothing about: the cost to the Earth and the cost to the future. In fact, as David Orr pointed out in his lecture, they discount these factors. That implies they’re essentially of no value. Leave out the cost to the Earth, leave out the cost to the future, and whatever your final number is, it’s worthless. We’re getting worthless advice from those economists who are giving most of the advice about how to run our government, including advice about the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. One of my definitions of GATT is that it’s the end run around the environmental gains of the last century. It is just pure gravy for the transnationals.
We’ve got to do something about one of our worst addictions: the addiction to growth. All of the candidates running for office are saying, “We must have a growing economy.” If they want to keep it growing the way it has been growing, we absolutely must not have a growing economy. We must have a sound economy, a sustainable economy. They haven’t come up with one single notion of how to move it in that direction. What are we going to do besides grow, grow, grow? In your own body, where the wildness within you puts in a control factor, you have a thymus. Civilization needs a thymus. It needs the word for “enough.” But “enough” doesn’t sound strong enough—Italian has the right word: “basta. ” We must say basta to the kind of growth we’ve been practicing.
Another thing we need, as Adlai Stevenson pointed out, is love for the fragile craft Earth and all its inhabitants. We haven’t been good about that. One small way we could show love would be not just to criticize somebody who’s done something we don’t like but to thank somebody who’s done something we do like. We don’t thank the people who deserve it. Think back to Richard Nixon when he first came into office: he made the best speech on population control any president has ever made, before or since. He hedged it a little bit, but nobody has touched what he did. Certainly not Ronald Reagan or George Bush. John Ehrlichman told me in 1969, “That speech was a dud. It bombed at the box office. No support.” So I have asked many of my audiences, “How many people think we have a population problem?” Hands up all over the place. “How many people thanked Richard Nixon for what he did?” On the average, only one hand in a thousand.
Jimmy Carter got into the same kind of box on the subject of nuclear power and whether or not to build breeder reactors. Legislation favoring these reactors had passed Congress. He wanted to veto it but felt that he had no alternative except to sign it. I was one of thirteen people who met with Carter to discuss the bind he was in, and eventually it was a letter I signed, which was written by Jeff Knight, Friends of the Earth’s energy specialist, that convinced Carter he could veto it. He did! I have also asked audiences, “How many thought that legislation needed to be vetoed?” Almost everybody. “How many thanked Jimmy Carter?” One in a thousand. Yet this is one way we can show a bit of love: by thanking somebody for doing something right. We don’t all have to do everything right, but if a person does one thing right, then maybe, with thanks, that person will do something else right. Just think for a moment what might have happened to Richard Nixon if that speech had had the support it deserved—he might have been a completely different Richard Nixon.
I have my own axiom: not to love thy neighbor as much as thyself but to love thy neighbor more than thyself. This might be quite useful to practice, because out of that behavior something else happens. For example, it could help us be more aware of “the Law of the Minimum”: that it doesn’t matter how many plants there are if you don’t have land; it doesn’t matter how much land you have if you don’t have soil on it; it doesn’t matter how much soil you have if you don’t have water for it; it doesn’t matter how much water you have if you don’t have air; it doesn’t matter how much air if you don’t have oxygen; or how much oxygen if you don’t have judgment; or how much judgment if you don’t have love. It would certainly help our transnationals and the “Misfortune 500” if they considered the Law of the Minimum.
This interrelation is terribly important, and there are parts of it that we’re not thinking about. I’ll just touch for a moment on oxygen. The amount of oxygen on Earth is decreasing because we’re getting rid of the world’s forests as fast as we possibly can. While a tree is alive, chlorophyll locks up carbon and frees oxygen. But when a great tree falls, it may take two thousand years—or, depending on its chemistry and climate, maybe only two hundred or five hundred or nine hundred years—for it to turn into soil again. During that time it’s going to require back all the oxygen it freed so that it can feed Robert Frost’s “slow, smokeless burning of decay.” This decay is absolutely essential to complete the continuing revolution of the cycles of life, particularly the carbon cycle, but it does require oxygen. Simultaneously, we are releasing the carbon that was buried and became fossil fuels over the course of five hundred million years. We have quite a bit of locked-up carbon that could stay locked up, and what do we do with it? We dig it up as fast as we can and put it out as many tailpipes as we can, and we say, “This is jobs.” If you’re worried about the ozone barrier, then you’ve got to realize that the damage is going to continue for a long time. CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) are migrating up; they are destroying ozone now and will continue to destroy it for a hundred years even if their use is stopped today. (I got this number out of the special Fall 1992 issue of Time, “Beyond the Year 2000: Preparing for the Next Millennium.”).
So for you twenty-year-olds I’ve got a lot of sympathy. People my age can “check out” reasonably soon, but what is going to happen as this atmospheric imbalance continues to worsen? What is going to heal it? I don’t know enough high-school chemistry to know anything but this: if you want O3 back, you’ve got to have some O2 to play with. But we’re getting rid of it. So what do we do? People are talking about a carbon tax and other measures, but what we need to do is pay the people who have forests and pay the countries that are storing fossil fuels to keep them where they are. We need to slow down their use as fast as we possibly can, to use every bit of science and technology and humanity we can to slow it down. To say basta to what we’ve been up to. It’s terribly important if you like to breathe. And what are we going to do about the soil if they keep doing to the soil what they’ve done? There’s a big constituency out there of people who like to eat, who like to breathe, and we’ve got to organize this group!
Where do we start? One opportunity for action is the James Bay situation. I’m on this trip East to try to do something about James Bay, the “thumb” that hangs down from the Hudson Bay. This is my third time here for this purpose. James Bay has a lot of rivers flowing into it, and HydroQuebec—the HydroMafia of Quebec—has been working hard to see if it can get rid of that free-flowing water and turn it into kilowatt-hours for New England. It’s going to cost New England fifty billion dollars to finance that operation and receive hydroelectricity. Fortunately, Governor Cuomo—for economic reasons, not for ecological reasons—pulled out of the contract (and I thanked him for it). That puts a big bite of vulnerability into it. Now we’ve got to get the New England states to pull out. We need to have the people who hold HydroQuebec bonds get rid of them in order to send a signal. We’re going to go after universities and other holders of major funds and pressure them to divest themselves of HydroQuebec bonds.
What HydroQuebec wants to do to the Cree Indians is essentially to wipe out their habitat and wipe them out—the same general attitude Henry Kissinger showed toward Micronesia when he said, “There are only ninety thousand people down there; who gives a damn?” HydroQuebec says, “There are seventeen thousand Cree up there, and we do indeed give a dam; we want to build all the dams we possibly can!” Here’s a culture that knows its terrain better than we know ours, that has not just a hands-on approach to the Earth but a feet-on approach, and we’re trying to destroy it. We’re going on the idea—the myth—that hydroelectric energy is renewable, but it’s not renewable, because it depends on reservoirs. It’s a one-shot thing. It’s mining the dam site: you use the dam site up, and that’s it. And it’s messing around with rivers, taking the meanders out. Rivers know what they’re doing—meanders slow the river down, rechanneling it and recharging aquifers. When aquifers can’t recharge, what happens? The Kissimmee River in Florida. The Corps of Engineers straightened it out. Now that they’ve realized their mistake, they’re spending fifty million dollars to put the bends back in. Well, that’s jobs.
We’ve got to find alternative forms of energy, certainly alternatives to wasting energy. We’ve got to cut off these hydroprojects right now. Only God can make a dam site, and we’ve occupied a lot of them already. We don’t need to go on in China, in India, in Japan. I want Hetch Hetchy dam in Yosemite down so that we get another Yosemite Valley in our park. That can be done. Because of the numbers I was throwing at you just now—the resources used up, the population increased—we need a completely new look, a new insight, a new vision of what we’re going to do. We’ve got to worry about numbers. We’ve got to worry about our appetite, and the best place to start is right at home with our overconsumption. We can stop overconsuming immediately. Just keep your wallet in your pocket, and we’ll cut consumption down fast. Yet, as E. O. Wilson says about these numbers, we aren’t willing to do anything really drastic. In the case of population control, an acceptable limit is no more than two children per family. I would prefer just one per family, but that means in a short time there will be no cousins anymore. So leave it at two per family, in the families that want them and can take care of them. I firmly believe in life after birth; population control enhances life.
The big pressure is our pressure, our overconsumption. And we have our own Third World, as you know; the homeless aren’t using much, people in the ghettoes aren’t using much. But those of us who aren’t poor are the problem. Buy, buy, buy; consume, consume, consume; toss it away, toss it away. There are people in Massachusetts spending seven million dollars to fight Measure 3, which calls for recycling in a very imaginative way; it could be an example for the rest of the United States. We got the governor to say that their arguments were erroneous, but that was boiled down to a tiny piece on page twenty-eight of The Boston Globe.
This brings me to a key area for action: we have to free the media, break the sound barrier. We’ve got to get the word out, and the media can’t get the word out because most of them are indentured. The alternative press, of course, is not indentured, and there are two specific, contrasting examples of fairly “free” magazines. Ms. magazine carries no ads. Its editors made that decision because they wanted to be free to speak. They didn’t want advertisers looking over their shoulders, and they had firm ideas about what they wanted to tell their audience. They needed to have a circulation of 150,000 to make it work without ads, and as I understand it, they have 250,000, and it’s working. That’s one way to freedom. But the other way, strangely enough, is in a magazine that is absolutely loaded with ads, and I don’t approve of all of them, by any means: The New Yorker. Remember what The New Yorker did under William Shawn? It gave an entire issue to John Hershey’s Hiroshima. One issue, maybe it was two, to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Three issues to Encounters with the Archdruid, John McPhee’s interview with me. Again and again The New Yorker carries pieces that are hard-hitting. I haven’t seen it for the past three weeks—I travel too much—but I understand that even with the new editor it’s still hitting hard. In “The Talk of the Town” this week there’s apparently an article providing grounds for the impeachment of George Bush. They are bold. They don’t give a damn what their advertisers want, but they get them anyway. Their boldness makes them a required medium for advertisers to advertise in. I wish the rest of the media would try that out.
Incidentally, taking a stand on environmental issues is one thing they don’t try out. I have been interviewed seven times by Time magazine. They have not put in a word of what I said. The first time was when the Alaska pipeline was the cover story. I had a long interview on that. Phil Herrera (he was then the environment editor) put a lot of that material in and submitted it. But Time took out everything I’d said (although they left in a picture of me!). Phil said it was taken out by the advertising department. So we do have to free the media. They should all be willing and able to say what they think without having to look over their shoulder and wonder, “What will the advertiser think if I do this?” That goes for PBS and NPR as well as anybody else. We must free the media, and that will happen only when corporations learn how to operate with conscience. When the corporations do that and the media are free, we’ll get our democracy back because the people running for office won’t have to go to the Fortune 500 or the transnationals to fund their campaigns. We’ll do more of what Jerry Brown was doing with his 800 number: no more than a hundred dollars from anybody. With that 800 number, by that process, he raised twelve million dollars.
What else can we do? Let me tell you about Sam LaBudde. Although you may not know the name, I think you know what he did: he took his courage and his camcorder, which had been given to him by Earth Island Institute and Earth Trust, and he got a job aboard a fishing ship, working as a cook. He said the camcorder was a toy given to him by his father and he wanted to see how it worked. In the July 1989 issue of The Atlantic there was a good cover story on him, written by the writing member of our family, Kenneth Brower. Sam did something that anybody could do—at least anybody who is thirty-two and a biologist—he got aboard that ship and took camcorder footage of what was going on in the industry. One of the best shots shows a set of nets surrounding a school of tuna located under dolphins, and the nets bring in three tuna and kill more than a hundred dolphins. Hundreds of thousands of dolphins have been killed by the tuna fishing industry. Sam’s tape has been made into specials and news broadcasts around the world. That tape took a Fortune 500 company—H. J. Heinz—and turned it around. After a little bit of struggle and some full-page ads Earth Island finally got Bumble Bee to admit they weren’t telling the truth about their fishing methods. So the American tuna industry is now giving you “dolphin-safe” tuna. Mexico’s tuna industry continues to kill dolphins, and they accuse us of eco-imperialism for saying we will not accept their tuna because it kills dolphins. They’re being supported by the GATT philosophy! GATT says Mexico is right and we are wrong to protect dolphins and to be proud of it. What we can do now is to help fund—I think Heinz could help fund—research and development by Mexico that will enable them to catch tuna, as Heinz is doing, without killing dolphins. They might just as well learn how to do that, because if they kill all the dolphins, where will they look for their tuna? It’s like the old-growth forests: if we kill all the old-growth forests for the sake of jobs, what will the lumber industry do when the forests are gone? This question doesn’t cross the minds of George or Dan.
Next, Sam LaBudde went aboard a driftnet ship. These ships set out thirty-five thousand miles of driftnet every night. Then they haul it in. It catches fish that shouldn’t be caught, that need to grow some more and go back to the streams where they came from. Whales, seals, dolphins, marine birds, and turtles are killed in the driftnets. Their lives are wasted. Sam sums it up as strip-mining the high seas. His footage on that has brought changes at the United Nations level. Japan has recently said it will stop using driftnets. Thirty-two years old, bold, with camcorder. Then Sam went up to Alaska, where young Alaskans were machine-gunning walruses to trade their ivory tusks for drugs.
By this time Sam was getting a little depressed himself. So he came up with the idea, “Why don’t we have an Earth Corps?” I’ve been working on that: an Earth Corps to take up where the Peace Corps leaves off. The Earth Corps would be global, whereas the Peace Corps is just a national thing. It hasn’t been very interested in the environment. It’s more interested now, but it still isn’t willing to displease the transnational corporations. We want to be able to displease them if necessary. What we want was described reasonably well, though just briefly, by Mikhail Gorbachev two years ago January at the Global Forum in Moscow. In that speech Gorbachev called for a “Green Cross.” That’s a better name than Earth Corps. The Red Cross takes care of damage the Earth does to people; the Green Cross will take care of damage people do to the Earth, to balance things out. It sounded like a great idea, so we started an Earth Island call for the International Green Cross. Then we ran into static from people who were offended by the symbol of the cross. They liked the crescent, they liked the Star of David, but they were offended by the cross. Carl Anthony, the president of Earth Island Institute, suggested that we call it the “International Green Circle.” That sounded okay. We thought, “Anyone who lives on a spherical planet and is offended by a circle is in trouble anyway; we’ll ignore them!” So we called it the International Green Circle, which is a nice, innocuous name, but nobody knows what it is about. Now we’re calling it—and Jerry Brown is very interested, he’s going to help us raise funds for it— the “Global C.P.R. Corps”: Conservation, Protection, and Restoration.
We’re also planning—and I think we’ll get away with it—a Global Restoration Fair, to be help in the San Francisco Presidio in ’95. That’s when the Presidio will be turned over by the military to the National Park Service. It’s also the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the U.N. charter in San Francisco, and the twenty-fifth anniversary of Earth Day. The Presidio is one of the most beautiful pieces of real estate in the world. The Park Service thinks this is one of the best possible uses for it. After the Fair we want it to remain the headquarters of the Global C.P.R. effort. I hope it works out. If the Park Service says go ahead, the we’ll go ahead with raising the money for it. It’s going to take a lot of money, but if we can get governments, corporations (those that want to make real change), universities, and other institutions (including churches) interested in this, then we’ll get it. And we’ll have the Fair. Maurice Strong said of the first global Conference on the Human Environment in Sweden in 1972 that it would have succeeded even if it had not been held, because of all the planning that went into it by governments and institutions.
The same thing could happen with a conference—a Show and Tell—at the Presidio about things that countries and institutions have already done for the environment and things that can be done now. This Fair would begin a major change in emphasis, helping to start the paradigm shift that must come about. We cannot continue to feed our economy, our greed, and what my wife calls our “greedlock.” We can’t afford to do this any more. We’re running out of some of the things in the Law of the Minimum; we’re going over the edge in a Giant Step for Mankind that nobody needs. We’ve got to avoid it, to do a 180, to make a tire-screeching U-turn and not go over that edge.
I can see no better way to do this than by making a major effort to go back to where we’ve been, leaving the wildness that remains wild, fulfilling the maxim of Henry David Thoreau, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” We must honor wildness, for as Nancy Newhall writes in This is the American Earth (Sierra Club 1960/1992), “The wilderness holds answers to questions we have not yet learned how to ask.” It’s exciting to discover—it’s fun to discover—how nature works, to find out, for example, that we have to make cement at 1800° Fahrenheit, while a hen can make better cement per unit at 103°, and a clam can do it at seawater temperature. What’s the trick? We don’t know, but I wouldn’t mind finding out. Other examples: the bombardier beetle makes actual steam in an internal chamber and fires it at its enemies; another beetle does something to the surface tension of water that makes water skaters sink and become its prey. The giant water bug injects, say, a frog with a chemical that dissolves everything inside the frog’s skin—turns it into liquid—and then the bug sucks it out. (Don’t tell the Defense Department about that one!)
So there’s all this exciting stuff to discover! We haven’t spoiled it all, and we can save all that’s left of it! We can go back to where we’ve been and do better. To science and technology we can add humanity and compassion and go back. Who will do this? Well, we want some teams. We want to build restoration teams on which all the creeds are represented, all the colors, all the ages (I still want something to do), all the classes, and all the sexes (I come from the San Francisco region, where we count eight). We want to build teams that are willing to put aside their favorite prejudices and get into a symbiotic, instead of an aggressive, relationship with others. We don’t agree on a great many things, but we can agree that we’ve got to restore the damage we’ve done to Earth.
We have examples of restoration work that has been done. Jerry Brown did some when he was the governor of California by supporting the “Investing for Prosperity” program: when the legislature was cutting every other program, Investing for Prosperity got a hundred and twenty-five million dollars a year to restore forests, wetlands, streams, soil fertility, and other things, and many of these investments have paid off already. Then there’s Dan Janzen of the University of Pennsylvania, restoring the dry tropical forest of Costa Rica, and Earth Island Institute, helping to protect Siberia’s Lake Baikal. We’re trying to get a restoration movement going at Earth Island. We want every institution to get involved in it. It’s the alternative to war. One of the problems with peace is that it’s been rather dull—it’s not much fun; if you put restoration into it, it can be great fun, and it can be profit-making. If you don’t think so, try taking your car to the shop or your body to your doctor, and find out who’s making money. You’re glad to pay it: the car works better or your body works better (you hope), so it’s a good investment.
There is no better investment, whatever it costs, than getting Earth’s life-support systems back in life-supporting, working order. People are worried about the taxing and spending that might be required to pay these costs, but we’ve been borrowing and spending as well as deferring maintenance and replacement, for the past twelve years! We need to pay for restoration because we need to save the wild. If we were to ask the twenty-year-olds and under in the audience, “Would you be willing to pay the bill for restoring the Earth so we can live on it?” I think I know what the answer would be. We have the opportunity now to invest in prosperity, to invest in ecological sanity, and to invest in an understanding of how the Earth works and what we have to do to help it work. We can help nature heal. But we can’t be so arrogant as to think we’ve got all the answers, because we haven’t; if we’re not careful, we’ll make mistakes like bringing more rabbits to Australia or something worse.
We need to pay restoration because we need to save the wild. Let me give you a few more examples of the miracles of wildness. You’ve been listening to me for an hour now with ears that are a miracle! If you looked at a diagram of the human ear, you would see that it’s just too complicated to work. If you looked at a transparent statue of a human being and looked at the nervous and circulatory systems, you’d say that the human being can’t possibly work. But it does. You don’t have to “run” your nervous system or your circulatory system, you don’t have to worry about your ears, and you have been sitting there digesting your lunch; it’s all taken care of. The food you had will be equitably distributed to the trillions of cells in your body, which has a very good distribution system. If we had to think about it, we’d probably destroy it! But the system goes on. You’re looking up this way, those of you who are still awake, with a hundred and twenty million rods and cones in each retina, all pin in the right way, beholding creation in 3-D. Just think about it: each eye gets a different picture. Do you object? No; it gives you space, the space between us.
So here we have all of these functions taking place; we have the ability to feel compassion, to love, and to reproduce; and we don’t have to think about these things at all. They’re just there. It’s like the colony of leaf-cutting ants in E. O. Wilson’s office. They carry leaves five or ten times their size over a branch and over the pile of leaves he puts in there, then they cut them up into little pieces and carry them to their nest. Inside the nest they have a “department” of smaller ants, part of the same colony, which take the leaf pieces and cut them into even smaller pieces. Then still smaller ants go around and put them in their garden, where they have also planted fungi. They’ve got sustainable agriculture going, probably the only example on Earth. There is more weight of ants on Earth than there is of us, and they don’t like clear-cutting, they don’t like herbicides, they don’t like pesticides, they don’t like fertilizers, and they know exactly what they’re doing. They’re as well instructed as the arctic tern is, a bird which migrates from pole to pole: the young begin their migration before the parents do, so you can see what good maps they’re born with. It’s the same with the monarch butterfly: east of the Rockies, monarchs go to Mexico for winter—to one little piece of Mexico where the right trees are. West of the Rockies, they go to Pacific Grove, to a few trees along the coast. Pretty good maps!
These are some of the miracles of wildness, yet we’re getting rid of wildness before we have the faintest idea of what we’re eliminating. We have got to stop. We can stop by going back to where we’ve been and doing better there, not by going on further with the idea that we need more and more and more. I think we’re getting tired of trashing wildness. It’s not making us happy and it’s not making us healthy; it’s making us miserable and despairing.
So here’s a task; it’s a challenging one. I’ve now talked to more than 270,000 people. At the end of my pitch for restoration I have asked each audience—and now I’m asking you, “How many people in this audience would be willing to commit at least a year of their lives, out of the next ten, to volunteering for this restoration effort, either getting paid or not?”… That’s pretty good. Now, just for fun, I’ll ask it the other way, so you’ll know how polls are taken. “How many people in the audience would be unwilling to commit at least a year out of the next ten to this restoration effort and to the idea that it’s healing time on Earth?”…Except for one person, it’s unanimous.
The point is that this is the public wish, as I have seen it represented in these audiences. They haven’t just been members and friends of the Schumacher Center: they’ve been media people in Japan; they’ve been the Physicians for Social Responsibility; they’ve been directors, writers, and producers in Hollywood; they’ve been the audiences I talked to in Japan and in the ex-U.S.S.R. Wherever I have gone, at least two-thirds of the people put their hands up. So the wish is there. The ability to lead needs to be worked on—we need leaders, we need organizers, and of course it would help to have a little money. If you follow through and help organize this and enlist others to help organize it, then it will happen. If it doesn’t, we’ve had it! Civilization as we know it will have had it. We can’t continue going that way, we’ve got to turn around.
We can do it; the talent is here. My old mountaineer friend, William H. Murray, in his book The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, expresses his deep admiration for a couplet from Goethe: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it; boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Do you have magic in you? You bet. Because the minimum of genetic material—the amount necessary to give us all the messages about where our hundred million rods and cones go and about the whole works, conscious mind and unconscious—would fit in a sphere a sixth of an inch in diameter. That sums up the minimum genetic material needed to produce the hundred billion people who have ever lived. That magic, that miracle of life, has been passed on for three and a half billion years. In that time millions of species went by the wayside, but we didn’t. From when it began three and a half billion years ago to everyone here: no mistakes, no failure. So a little tiny part of each of us is three and a half billion years old, and everything that’s alive is related. How did this miracle happen? What shaped it? What informed it? It wasn’t civilization, because there wasn’t any. It was something else. It was wilderness. That’s all there was. Trial and error, success and failure, symbiosis; wilderness made it work. Wilderness is the ultimate encyclopedia, holding, just as Nancy Newhall put it, answers to more questions than we have yet learned how to ask.
That’s the magic in you. You’ve got it; let it out.