How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stuff – Part II

The Real Cost of Cheap Goods

How is it possible that a toaster at Walmart sells for $4.99? When one adds up the cost of materials, labor and impacts to the environment, the $4.99, toaster just doesn’t add up. The components of the toaster, tin, steel, copper wiring, rubber and paint or lacquer, must be mined, refined, smelted, manufactured and transported. Once each of the raw materials has been produced at locations throughout the world, they are then sent to a factory, probably in China, to be assembled into the completed toaster by human hands. The person in the factory may have a family at home to support with the meager wage he or she earns. Once assembled, the toaster is then shipped across the world again to end up on the shelf of a big box store. In the not to distant future, as should be expected, the $4.99 toaster breaks and is disposed of in a landfill.

Throughout the life history of the $4.99 toaster, innumerable costs are incurring that do not appear on the price tag. The metallic components of the toaster begin their lives as ore in the ground. Most ores contain 2% or less of the desired metal, so extraordinary amounts of ore must be mined to produce small amounts of metal. In most cases, the ore is strip mined. First the land is cleared of all vegetation, then fossil fuel guzzling heavy machinery literally rips the bedrock into pieces of ore. Many strip mines cover many square miles. Once the strip mining process is finished, the land areas are rarely, if ever reclaimed and become vacant wastelands devoid of life.

The metallurgical process also involves several, environmentally devastating stages. First, the ore is crushed to powder. In the case of copper (used for wiring), the powdered ore is then mixed with sulfuric acid and/or other chemicals to liberate the metallic components from the rock. The crushed ore is heaped into a pile and saturated with the chemical solvent. The leftover tailings are left in heaps at the production site and contain extremely high levels of toxic chemicals and heavy metals sitting in an acidic brew. Then, the treated ore is smelted in a furnace mixed with limestone and silica. Finally the brew is reduced to the finished copper metal by exposing it to extremely high temperatures to burn off any oxides that may remain.

The above process is a basic standard for the extraction of most metals; however, many require more extensive treatment with subsequent greater environmental impacts. The environmental effects of mining and processing metal include habitat destruction, landscape degradation, toxic contamination of groundwater, air and land, excessive fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas production, and the list goes on. Once a mine is exhausted, cleanup, restoration and mitigation expenses can run into the millions of dollars, but the corporate benefactors of the mineral extraction rarely pay the costs.

Until recently in the United States, mining operations were simply abandoned and local residents were left to suffer with the consequences. In response to several large scale environmental disasters, in 1980 the US government passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (a.k.a. “Superfund”) to hold corporations accountable for cleaning up their industrial messes. Unfortunately, on most Superfund sites that were contaminated prior to the passing of the legislation, the taxpayer has picked up the tab. As for the corporations, they have largely moved their mining operations overseas to developing countries that have no such legislation for environmental liability. Once can almost certainly assume that the environmental costs of production are not included in the $4.99 sticker price of our toaster, and we have not even discussed the manufacture of paint and transportation considerations.

A human cost is also not calculated into the toaster’s sticker price. Once upon a time in America, a vast middle class enjoyed good paying factory jobs with benefits. Most of the consumer goods sold in America were also made in America. The globalization of the marketplace has basically eradicated those jobs taking the American middle class with them. In the new world of free trade, it is much cheaper to hire a factory worker in China, Bangladesh or the Philippines than it is to hire one in the United States. Developing countries do not require minimum wages, healthcare or retirement packages. Labor that once cost dollars per hour can now be obtained for pennies. Needless to say at those prices, factory workers in the developing world for the most part work in unsafe, intolerable conditions. Working environments that were long ago deemed inhumane and illegal in the United States are now the standard in manufacturing across the globe.

Artificially cheap goods and services that do not reflect the true cost of their consumption also act as a monopolistic domination of sorts in the market. As overall prices plummet, conscientious manufacturers who pay their workers a fair wage and clean up their environmental messes cannot compete. The lower price for the consumer also prohibits the development of newer, cleaner technologies, as these technologies would incur costs that would inhibit competition with the artificially low price tag associated with conventional manufacturing.

Sadly, as good blue collar jobs have gone the way of the dodo bird in the United States, a declining middle class is forced into employment at the same big box stores that sell $4.99 toasters. Struggling to make ends meet on less than subsistence wages with no benefits, the consumer can no longer even afford to buy goods at their real cost, thus perpetuating the vicious downward cycle. Conscientiously manufactured “green” and fair trade goods are available only to the lucky few that can afford them.

Every trinket, toy, appliance and gadget in our homes is complicit in the environmental and human degradation above. Shop wisely.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Saving Mother – Part IV

Creating the New Economy

If the events of the past year have taught us anything, we should have now learned we cannot rely on our governments, banking institutions or multinational corporations to take it upon themselves to fix what is broken with the global economy. As Wall Street was gambling with our futures, our government stood by and did nothing to regulate or stop them. As countless families lost their livelihoods, taxpayers were forced to bail out those same multibillion dollar institutions that got us all into this disaster in the first place. Meanwhile, hedge fund managers and banking CEO’s are still taking home extortionate salaries and bonuses, and we the taxpayers, in a large part are paying for them. The promise of “change” has turned out to be more of the same.

Needless to say, if we the people expect to effect any change in the status quo, it is up to us. Fortunately, we have the power. For all the governmental control, psychopathic greed, manipulation of public policy and ambivalent destruction of the environment that corporations exercise on a global scale, they cannot operate or survive without our complicity. They need us, the consumers, to choose to purchase the goods or services they are pedaling. They need our money. Without our purchases, their profit margins shrink, their share prices fall, and they go bankrupt. Since we obviously can’t beat the market, we need to join it in order to change it.

The history of the organic foods movement is case in point. The organic movement began in the 1970’s as a response to industrial farming. As conscious individuals became aware of the environmental and health implications of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers, they began to demand food that was grown naturally. In the 1990’s the movement had grown large enough that the USDA was obliged to create official organic certification standards. Today, the organic foods industry is the fastest growing sector in the food market expanding at a whopping 20% per year, and this growth is entirely driven by consumer demand. When consumers speak with their dollars, the market listens. The individual can effect great change by simply living the life they want to see in the world.

Step 1 – Don’t buy anything you don’t need
Our dysfunctional economy is based on the delusion of perpetual growth. As most American consumers are fortunate enough to have access to the basic necessities of life, corporate entities must grow by creating limitless wants in the consumer population. Through advertising, we are led to believe that miracle products hold the key to our happiness, so we go to the mall, ever hopeful and often at the expense of incurring debt, to purchase the latest and greatest gadget, diet product, beauty cream or wide screen TV only to find ourselves even more miserable (now laden with debt) than we were before. The truth is that having more stuff does not solve any of our problems and usually creates more problems. All of the scientific research conducted on the elusive state of happiness concludes that once a person has the stuff for basic subsistence, having more does not increase one’s happiness at all.

Furthermore, every item purchased represents spent resources in terms of the energy and materials used to create it. Once the product outlives its usefulness, it becomes waste and pollution. Every time we make a superficial impulse purchase, we reinforce the wasteful consumerism inherent in our deeply flawed and unsustainable economy. By buying only what we need, we encourage the market to return to a more sustainable modality based on utility rather than frivolity.

Step 2 - If It’s Broken, Fix It
Once upon a time in America, people bought goods and expected to keep them for a lifetime or even longer. Everything from televisions to toasters and automobiles were lovingly maintained and kept for years or even decades. When something broke, a person took the item to a repair shop or a service person came to the home to fix it. Entire businesses were built around maintenance and service. Today vacuum cleaner repair shops and TV repair man are the stuff of legends. Consumer goods are intended to be thrown away when they malfunction, as the manufacturer can then sell you another and make more profit. People who once owned service related businesses have gone out of business. To make matters worse, the increase in manufacturing resulting from our disposable consumer culture has not resulted in more blue collar jobs because those jobs are all now overseas where labor is cheap. Contrary to neoliberal economic mythology, buying consumer goods over and over again is good for someone’s economy but not ours. If we replaced the ‘consume and throw away’ paradigm with a ‘keep and repair’ model, we would actually create service jobs locally that could not be outsourced overseas. We would save our landfills mountains of waste, preserve precious resources and improve our local economies if only we would learn again how to take care of our toys.

Step 3 – Eliminate Debt
Now that we are only buying what we need and taking care of what we have, we will notice our credit card balances starting to creep slowly in the downward motion. Perhaps we have a few extra dollars at the end of the month that can go to pay down the mortgage. Being debt free has value beyond the obvious. After all, debt based securities are the financial instruments of doom that caused the great recession. With debt hanging over our heads, we end up going to work just to pay off debt and hopefully break even. With less debt, one could work less hours and spend time enjoying life instead with the added bonus of restricting the market for the predatory lending on Wall Street.

Step 4 – Be a Conscious Consumer
Let’s face it we all need some retail therapy from time to time, appliances break down, clothes wear thin, and we get hungry. Inevitably, we must make purchases from time to time, but we can shop without contributing to environmental degradation or corporate excess. Properly placed purchases can effect real positive change in the world. Purchasing clothing, furniture and odds and ends at antique, consignment and thrift stores is a form of recycling. Certified fair trade products ensure farmers and laborers have been offered a safe work environment and a fair living wage for their efforts. Certified organic foods and textiles save the environment from toxic chemicals, and buying from small, local businesses keeps revenue in local economies.

Step 5 – Invest in a Better Future
Remember how Leeman Brothers and Merrill Lynch lost all of their clients’ money while the companies’ CEOs retired to affluence? After making some really bad investments, the culprits got bonuses while grandma and grandpa had to come out of retirement and work as greeters at WalMart just to make ends meet. Why do we continue to trust these people to make our investment decisions? In the modern era, the wise investor needs to take control of their investment capital.

Not all corporations are entirely evil, and the savvy investor should choose securities based on a company’s social and environmental record as well as its potential for profit. Starbucks offers all of their employees a living wage and health insurance. Google headquarters run on solar energy, and numerous international and startup companies are doing outstanding work researching and developing alternative technologies that will help to create a sustainable future. Instead of lining some fat cat’s pockets with your hard earned dollars, do your own research, and then invest in companies you believe in.

As we approach a new year and a new decade, we can make the world we want to live in. While we don’t have the power to change laws or equitably distribute wealth across the planet, we can make the world a better place with the financial decisions we make. The global economy is all based on money, and we hold the money in our pockets.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Water Enough For Earth

“Water is the source of all life – The Koran.”

The primitive solar system was a chaotic place. From 4.6 to 3.5 billion years ago, a young, hot Earth was bombarded by icy asteroids, comets and small protoplanets. Volcanic eruptions spewed methane, ammonia, water vapor and other gasses to blanket the Earth in a fragile atmosphere. As the planet cooled, water vapor in the atmosphere rained down upon the surface to form the oceans.

Early Earth’s briny sea was a soup of organic molecules subjected to volatile atmospheric conditions with tempestuous winds and constant lightening strikes. Within the primitive oceanic broth, molecules collided, reacted and reformed until self-replicating compounds began the metabolic processes that sparked the beginning of life.

Consequently, human cultures across the globe have always held water, the most abundant substance on the surface of the earth, as sacred. In Genesis, Yahweh separated the waters creating the dome of the sky and the waters of the Earth. In Ancient Egypt, all that exists was born of Nu, the primordial chaotic sea. The Ancient Babylonians believed that Tiamat (salt water) and Apsu (fresh water) combined to form the first gods who in turn became the progenitors of all life. Poets, artists and writers throughout the ages have compared the flow of a river to the course of a lifetime. Art, science and myriad creation myths share an innate knowledge that water is the source of life itself.

H2O is a simple molecule comprised of one oxygen atom combined with two hydrogen atoms. The molecular structure of water is believed to be a bent, boomerang shape with the hydrogen atoms at either end and the oxygen atom at the apex in the center.

The shape and orientation of various components lend water some very unique properties. Hydrogen exerts a positive charge, while oxygen tends toward a negative charge giving the molecule a distinct polarity. The positive poles on one molecule are attracted to the negative poles on nearby water molecules in a phenomenon known as “cohesion.” This property allows water striders to skate across the surface of a puddle without drowning. The polarity of water also allows for the capillary action that transports water from the roots of forest giants hundreds of feet against the force of gravity to be exhaled on the breath of the leaves of trees. Water is a remarkable solvent, and has the remarkable property of being less dense in a solid state than in a liquid state allowing ice to float on water.

When the first brave vertebrate left the ocean realm hundreds of millions of years ago, it took the ocean onto the land within its body. Water is the solvent in which all of our metabolic activities take place. It runs through our veins and plumps our cells. Almost 70% of our body is comprised of water. As the most basic necessity of life, water is the resource scientists look for on other planetary bodies as an indicator for extraterrestrial life.

Water, like the air we breathe, occupies a resource realm of its own. It is necessary for life, eternal and abundant yet fragile and precious. It burbles up from the land and snakes through the landscape charting a determined course back to its origins in the sea. It rides on the winds, falls from the sky, and penetrates into the earth joining ancient aquifers only to percolate out lifetimes later to rejoin a river back to the sea. It is always moving. Water never disappears, but instead is constantly reborn into new lives and new possibilities. The same molecules of water that exist in our veins once lived in the primordial oceans of ancient Earth and in the cosmic dust that once swirled through the vast universe. None of us truly owns water. We merely make use of it as it passes through our organism and onto its next life.

Water is abundant. It covers approximately 71% of Earth’s surface. 97% of this water is contained within Earth’s oceans. A further 2.4% of Earth’s water is contained within glaciers and polar ice caps. A mere 0.6% of this vital resource is found in lakes, rivers, aquifers and other fresh water bodies. At any time, only a small fraction of a percent of the water on Earth is bound up by Earth’s life forms.

Completely dependant upon water for survival, human civilizations formed along the sacred rivers of antiquity - the Jordan, Tigris, Ganges, Euphrates, Thames, Rhine and Nile rivers to name a few. So revered were the ancient rivers, they were worshipped as goddesses, and the veneration persists within many cultures into the current day.

Initially, Homo sapiens’ water consumption was limited to the basic necessities of drinking, cooking, bathing and subsistence agriculture. Civilizations persisted for millennia observing natural hydrological cycles and sustainably using the water resources available to them. With the advent of industrial agriculture and manufacturing, however, water consumption has skyrocketed.

Even though water is one of Earth’s most abundant resources, we are running short. The intensive irrigation of monoculture crops is resulting in the depletion of ancient aquifers on a global scale. Marginal lands are rapidly being lost to desertification and reservoir levels are dropping. As primeval rivers are diverted from their natural courses to the sea, fisheries stocks are declining and entire ecological communities are collapsing.

As we use water with indiscriminant gluttony, we also dump the poisons of our activities into the fragile hydrological cycle. Toxin-filled runoff spews off farmlands poisoned with chemical fertilizers and pesticides and chokes the life out of rivers and streams. As the rivers run their inevitable course to the sea, we are using the sacred ocean, birthplace of creation, as a toilet for the byproducts of our greed.

In spite of our misguided ways, hope for the future remains. Many communities worldwide are returning to traditional agriculture and water conservation strategies to restore rivers and aquifers to their rightful place of respect and reverence.

“The earth has enough for the needs of all but not for the greed of a few – Mahatma Gandhi”

References and Recommended Further Reading

1- Shiva, Vandana (2002). Water Wars. South End Press, Cambridge, MA.

2- De Villiers, Marq (2000). Water – The Fate of our Most Precious Resource. Stoddart Publishing Company Limited, Canada.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Reason for the Season

“Worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23).”

“Happy Holidays” has recently become a politically incorrect greeting in the increasingly religiously conservative American culture. We are told the birth of Jesus is the reason for the season, and we should shed any secular observations of the season in favor of embracing the “real” meaning of Christmas.

Celebrating the birth of the great prophet Jesus with an emphasis on the enlightened message he brought to humanity is certainly a useful pursuit. Jesus exemplified the values of equality for all, tolerance, charity and nonviolence. Bravo to those who promote these values as the reason for the season. The traditions we observe every year during the winter season, however, do have a history that extends long before the birth of Jesus. As enlightened individuals, we should respect the rights of all people to embrace the season according to their own beliefs and values. The birth of Jesus is but one of many reasons humans have historically celebrated wintertime holidays, and closed minded folks who would seek to hijack the season for their personal dogmatic beliefs would do well to educate themselves to the multiplicity of traditions that surround this most wonderful time of the year.

Thousands of years ago, before electric lighting illuminated the world even on the darkest of nights and imported food from Chile blessed the market shelves throughout the year, the encroaching winter brought with it the real potential for hardship and poverty. After days of increasing darkness, the winter solstice arrived in the second half of the month of December marking the point where the sun triumphed over darkness. After the Solstice, the days lengthened and the birth of the new sun brought the promise of springtime to our ancestors suffering in cold and darkness. For millennia, humans have rejoiced in the rebirth of the sun each year, celebrating the return of longer days by feasting, exchanging gifts, caroling, giving alms to the poor and decorating their homes with evergreen trees and boughs of mistletoe, holly and fir. Evergreens symbolize the promise of everlasting life that renews each spring after the hardship of winter, and a kiss under the mistletoe is a sacrament to ensure a fertile spring.

In the year 350 C.E., December 25th was declared by papal decree to be the birthday of Jesus Christ. Pope Julius the First did not select the date randomly. December 25th was observed in Rome as the official day of winter solstice. Additionally, the date has long been celebrated as the birthday of the sun god Horus. The god of agriculture, Saturn along with several other Roman deities, claimed the period from solstice to New Year as “Dies Natalis Invicti Solis” or “The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.” Befitting the season of the sun’s birthday, feasts and merriment and goodwill to all were the order of the day. By selecting December 25th as the birthday of Jesus, the Pope’s decree allowed aspiring pagans to convert to Christianity without disrupting their engrained rituals.

In the centuries that have since passed, the celebration of the season has taken on new aspects that would have both Jesus and Horus rolling over in their graves. At some point, the ritual of gift giving was distorted into consumerism. An act that once symbolized the sharing of earth’s bounty with one’s fellow man has turned into a gluttonous spectacle of indulgence and waste, where the wealthy lavish in spending on themselves, and the poor survey the carnage with a mixture of bitterness and envy. Relations buy useless gifts out of a sense of obligation rather than generosity that remain unused and ultimately end up wasted in a landfill. Pushing and shoving stressed out consumers duke it out in toy stores over the latest Tickle Me Elmo or Cabbage Patch Kid. Meanwhile, the poor and starving kids in the slums of Kenya sniff glue on Christmas Eve to ward off the hunger pangs in their empty bellies so they can sleep.

Jesus would never have purchased gifts for wealthy friends while a single child on earth went without food. Nor would he have indulged in the blatant excess that characterizes the season dedicated to his birth. He would have abhorred the blatant consumption of resources and consequent pollution being perpetrated in his name. Similarly, the pagan ritual of gift giving was intended to share abundance with one’s fellow man and spread the wealth around so nothing was wasted. In the depths of winter when many suffered from want, the tradition served communities well.

A dear departed friend, Guy Johnson, used to tell his family members that if he couldn’t eat it, drink it or smoke it, he didn’t want it. His were sentiments that truly reflected the historical observance of the yuletide season. Eat, drink and be merry with your loved ones and rejoice in the abundance you have received this year by sharing it with those who have not been so fortunate. Donate to your friends’ and relatives’ favorite charities in lieu of consumer goods they don’t want or need and will never use. Plant an evergreen tree, and kiss somebody under the mistletoe.

With your actions give voice to the universal longing for peace on earth, sharing and goodwill towards friends, family, neighbors and all living things. Rejoice. The sun is reborn. Season’s Greetings.
Recommended References

Friday, December 4, 2009

How the "Green Revolution," Monsanto and the World Trade Organization are Ruining Farmers' Lives

A young man in India has a small piece of land that has been passed down in his family for generations. He lives on the land with his wife, parents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews and his own young family. He has a small herd of goats, a cow and chickens, and he grows a wide variety of crops. He waters his crops with fresh, clean water that he gets from a community well and fertilizes his crops with dung from his livestock. Every week, he takes some of his harvest to the market to sell. He also saves the best seeds from his harvest every season to plant the following season. He trades and barters his seeds and produce with his friends. He makes very little money, but he doesn’t need much because the land provides him and his extended family with everything they need to survive.

The Indian farmer’s life is not easy but neither is it impoverished. He and his family have healthy, nutritious food to eat and the love and support of an extended family and larger community. To the World Trade Organization, that measures human welfare in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), our farmer is a failure. His income is low enough that his is classed as living in abject poverty, and he is not a productive contributor to the wider, global economy.

The ironically entitled “Green Revolution” is a movement to bring industrial agriculture to rural areas that practice traditional subsistence farming. Companies like Monsanto hold workshops in rural areas where they promote the benefits of industrial, “modern” agriculture. Landowning subsistence farmers are told that they can greatly increase the profitability and productivity of their lands by replacing their old fashioned traditional farming methods with new technologies. The new hybrid and genetically-modified crops promise increased yields and ease of maintenance. Add a modern irrigation system and a farmer no longer needs to engage in the daily drudgery of planting, hauling water and pulling weeds. With a Roundup Ready crop of corn or soy, he simply sprays the land with Roundup, plants his seeds, uses his new irrigation system to water his plants and then harvests a crop that will fetch dollars on the international market. Voila, our subsistence farmer has entered the modern age and the WTO is very happy, as he is now engaging in monetary trading.

The above scenario is taking place across the globe in developing communities, and the WTO says that free market globalization is helping to improve the lives of people everywhere. Per capita incomes are increasing and global trade is exploding. All is well with the world, but a nagging issue of the skyrocketing suicide rates among Indian and other farmers around the world belies the WTO’s measurements of success.

The Indian farmer was persuaded by his government and corporate agribusiness that switching from the traditional farming methods that had served his family well for generations to modern methodologies would provide him with an economic windfall. By growing a monoculture of a commodity crop like corn, soy or cotton, the farmer would be able to sell his produce on the international market for top dollar. Unfortunately, most subsistence farmers lacked the startup capital to invest in the hybrid and GMO seeds, irrigation systems, herbicides, pesticides and machinery required to begin such an enterprise. So, farmers take out loans against their family farms with hopes for a better future.

When subsistence farmers switched from diverse subsistence crops and livestock to monoculture commodity crops, they indeed joined the global economy. They also forfeited a sustainable, self-sufficient life for one in which they must now pursue making money in order to survive. By mortgaging their farms to cover start up costs, they entered into a vicious cycle of borrowing money each year to cover expenses and then hoping they will earn enough when the crops come in to pay back the loans. American farmers were driven off the land and into the cities decades ago when they lost their farms to foreclosure under similar circumstances, and now farmers in the developing world are staring at the same fate. Sadly, once the vicious cycle is set in motion, the indebted farmer cannot turn back to his old ways, as he is now obliged to pay off his debt with cash that he can only procure by selling a commodity crop, or he loses his ancestral lands to foreclosure.

Unfortunately, the cards are stacked against the farmers from the beginning. Commodity crops are heavily subsidized by governments in developed countries, driving down prices and making it impossible for farmers that are not similarly subsidized to compete on the global market. Added to the mix are the inevitable risks inherent with farming. Drought, pestilence and other factors may result in crop failure. When the farmer ends up losing his land, large agribusinesses are ready to swoop in and take it up. Often the farmer ends up working for meager wages on the lands his family once owned, or the reality of losing the farm his family has owned for generations drives him to suicide. The United Nations reports that more than 100,000 farmers in Indian have taken their lives due to indebtedness in the decade since 1997 (1).

The winners and losers in the Green Revolution are obvious. The environment is a big loser. The introduction of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides has resulted in toxic contamination of land and water supplies. Long tern use of the same chemicals has rendered many lands infertile. Planting of monoculture crops has reduced biodiversity and resulted in the extinction of many heritage seed varieties. Farmers are losing independent, sustainable livelihoods, their farms, their cultural heritage and their lives. Multinational agricultural corporations are winning. They have succeeded in expanding their markets on a massive scale, and their profits continue to climb.

The World Trade Organization sees the Green Revolution as a unanimous success, and governmental and international policy continues to strive towards spreading the revolution to yet unspoiled regions of the globe in the name of “development.”


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Saving Mother - Part III

Step 1 – Save the Children

We need to rebuild our social and environmental infrastructure from the ground up. The monumental problems with our society start at birth, and so we must begin with our children to restore the natural balance.

For thousands of years, the worth afforded to traditional feminine societal roles has been undervalued. Historically, work provided by women, which accounts for at least of half the labor expended on the planet, has never been paid for or esteemed. A woman was expected to stay at home, care for and educate children, tend a kitchen garden, care for livestock, provide healthcare to the entire family, cook, clean and tend to her husband’s needs. For all her efforts, she was usually provided with sustenance and shelter, and much of the sustenance she either grew or harvested herself.

Her male counterpart, on the other hand “brought home the bacon.” Society valued his contributions and compensated him with currency for his efforts. Men who were able to bring home a lot of money were praised as being good providers and successful and were almost universally admired by society as a whole.

Women who excel at traditional female roles raising healthy, well rounded and educated children are perhaps appreciated by their family members, but the societal admiration she achieves is negligible when compared to that a successful man can garner. She works just as hard if not harder than an uber-wealthy Wall Street Banker, but she receives none of the material compensation for her efforts and will never gain notoriety outside of her immediate social circles. In fact most women who chose to work at home usually describe themselves as “just a stay at home mom.”

In the modern world if a woman can’t both bring home the bacon and fry it up, she is somehow deemed as inadequate. Over time, women seeking appreciation and respect in the world have been forced to leave the home and join the traditionally male rat race. In doing so, women have proven they can adeptly perform the same work as men. Women have earned an equal place in the contemporary western workplace; however, it is unfortunate they had to do so in order to earn a living and respect, and the transition of women from homes into the workplace has come at a certain cost to society. A woman can have it all, but frequently it is simply humanly impossible to do it all and to do it all well. As women add to the responsibilities on their plate by going out into the workplace, children’s needs do not change, and a care giving vacuum results.  Care givers need not be women.  Many fathers are up to the task too, but somebody needs to step up and fill the void lest our children all fall through the cracks. 

At infancy, a baby born in the United States can expect that its mother will be required to return to work six weeks after giving birth. The infant will then be sent to a day care facility, or if the parents are lucky enough, the child will be cared for by another family member or cared for at home by domestic staff. By the time the child is old enough for public education, he/she can expect to be put into an over-crowded, under-funded classroom with a poorly-paid and emotionally and physically exhausted teacher.

As relative wages decline and women are forced into the workplace to make ends meet, children receive less and less of the nurturance essential to healthy development. The thing that should be most dear to us as a species, ensuring the best possible future for the next generation, is immediately undermined when we pass off the responsibility of caring for our precious young in favor of the pursuit of commercial enterprise.

We can only begin to save our Earth by saving ourselves first. How can we expect to protect our planet, when we pay so little respect to the feminine value of nurturance? Our society now suffers from a wealth of evils caused from abject neglect. Even in our homes, the female is now forced into the masculine role of money earner going out into the workforce each day and leaving the care of her children and household largely in the hands of other individuals.

Those who are caring for our children are paid a pittance for their efforts, meaning that finding quality care givers is often impossible. As much as many child care workers are well meaning, it is very difficult to get enthusiastic about your job when you are barely making minimum wage. Ultimately, our society is collapsing from the ground up. Our children are plugged into electronic devices getting their moral and ethical tutorials off a television or the internet rather than from a present parent.

As a society, our children have become lost their position of priority. We spend much more money on our prisons and military than we do on our educational infrastructures. Under the given circumstances, it is no wonder so many children are experimenting with drugs, having sex, dropping out of school, shooting each other and generally failing in society. How can we expect to march forward into the future when we are miserably failing at preparing those who will become the decision makers in the next generation?

Little Steps Everyone Can Take
Read to your children every single day. Read them classics like Winnie the Pooh, The Wind in the Willows, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Tales of Peter Rabbit and read them stories that teach them to stretch their imaginations like the Harry Potter series. They will learn to love books, use their minds and amuse themselves. If you don’t have kids, read with someone else’s. The answers to all the world’s problems can be found between the pages of books and in the minds of imaginative people. A child who loves books can make up for much that is lacking in his education and upbringing.

We are leaving the next generation a world of woes to contend with. The least we can do is provide them with the intellectual tools to be able to cope with the mess.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Saving Mother - Part II

Little Steps are Giant Steps

Global business as usual is an environmental cataclysm waiting to happen. This sentiment is not an alarmist, left wing conspiracy to undermine democracy and capitalism. It is a verifiable, scientific observation. Our current trends have resulted in a steady deterioration of the earth’s biological infrastructure. The law of entropy states that an object in motion will remain in motion until acted upon by an outside force. If we do not drastically alter our behavior, our actions can only lead to greater and greater environmental deterioration.
Warning signs of impending doom are cropping up everywhere. We have scraped the seas clean of fish, our weather patters are becoming increasingly erratic, extremism is on the rise, and resource wars have become the norm. Signs that our economic model is flawed are also blatantly obvious. The entire global economy hangs by a thread dangled by a greedy investment banking industry, and our elected leaders spend trillions of our taxpayer dollars simply to prop up the failing status quo and continue to look at inadequate indicators such as GDP growth rates to assess the situation. We know the free trade, GDP growth dogma doesn’t work. We are living in the consequences of the failures of neoliberal unfettered capitalism. The more of the same solutions espoused by our global leaders is lunacy.
Nothing short of a revolution is required to save our species and planet earth. The task at hand seems daunting, but many of history’s greatest revolutions erupted spontaneously from the few small actions of individuals. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person launching the civil rights revolution. In1776, Abigail Adams asked her husband to remember women’s voting rights in the formation of our new democracy. The consistent small steps of numerous women over the next 150 years finally succeeded in securing women’s suffrage in 1920. In 1962, Rachel Carson wrote a book entitled Silent Spring sparking the modern environmental movement. The small actions of average people have been the impetus behind the movements that have changed our world for the better.
In fact, the only way to make a change is to start taking action. Passivity is not an option. If we sit back and let those in power continue to dictate the course of history, nothing will change. Those in economic and political positions of authority have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. The size and scale of the effort need not be monumental. Pennies saved faithfully over the course of a lifetime can add up to millions of dollars. Humble seeds planted in the spring yield bountiful harvests in the summer and fall. A child, properly nurtured and educated can grow up to change the course of history.
We must now create the world we want to live in. Most people would agree the ideal world would have an economic strategy that is fair and provides a living wage and adequate resources to sustain the lives of every human being. The new economy would also not consume resources faster than nature can replace them, would not produce pollutants in greater quantities than the environment’s ability to neutralize them and would allocate resources equitably among all earth’s organisms. Our new society would embrace diversity, both human and natural and eliminate the economic biases that allow a few people to exploit the rest of society and all creation for personal gain. We would lose the winner take all mentality that currently characterizes global predatory capitalism and replace it with an ethic of shared responsibility and community. Then we would create a political system where non-living, inanimate entities, such as corporations, have no place in determining the policies that impact people and other living things. Finally, our communities would be healed, people would reclaim their physical health, we would have clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, and families would once again be able to spend quality time together.
The action plan will be multifaceted. We must ensure that the population of the world is intellectually equipped to resolve the complex issues of the day. Real education must become an international imperative. Our current economic models are deeply flawed and cannot be remedied with more of the same misguided philosophies. The global economy will need to be completely overhauled in compliance with common sense and the laws of nature rather than in opposition to both. Our values of equality and justice must expand again to include all living things. Industry must change its production methodologies with an aim to first doing no harm to environmental or human health. The world has enough wealth right now to end poverty. It is immoral not to do so. Our cultural and spiritual values will need to transform so the words we speak match the actions we take.
Our actions must also match our wishes for the world we want to create. As Gandhi once noted, we must “be the change [we] want to see in the world.” Each and every person has within themselves a unique creativity, so the recommendations made in this text are simply suggestions based on the author’s own insights and passions. Ultimately, the great mass of humanity, once dedicated to the path of reform, will create novel individual contributions to solving the world’s problems. We must each use our passions and our gifts to select the path that is right for us. The spark of Sophia will guide us on our common journey.
Details to follow…

Friday, November 13, 2009

Saving Mother - Part I

3.6 million years ago, an ape-like primate genetically diverged from its ancestors to walk upright and become the first known species of hominid, Australopithecus afarensis. A million years later, after numerous genetic trials and errors, another hominid, Homo habilis, discovered that by chipping a rock, he could form a sharp, cutting tool. Another million years came and went before another descendent, Homo erectus, discovered that the same stone tool became more effective when sharpened on both sides of the cutting edge.

Then 150,000 years ago, a new hominid, Homo sapiens, appeared on the African landscape sporting a new large brain. In spite of his vastly enlarged frontal lobe, allowing for increased reasoning and problem solving, other than a few novel tool making technologies, early Homo sapiens remained relatively unchanged for another 100,000 years. But 40,000 years ago, something changed. Humans began to paint on cave walls, craft jewelry and adorn their dead. Complex culture and language developed. 10,000 years ago Homo sapiens planted seeds and domesticated livestock, and four hundred years ago he learned to harness the power of combusting fossil fuels. Now, the human species has completely altered the natural environment of the planet earth.

Since the Big Bang created the known Universe 15 billion years ago, all that exists has been in a constant state of transformation. Nothing in the universe is static. Tides rise and fall, seasons come and go, organisms are born, live, die and return to the elements from which they arose, and suns incinerate in cataclysmic supernovas giving rise to new beginnings. As the world changes around them, species are equipped with the genetic mechanisms to evolve into new organisms adapted to the new environmental baseline. Those that are inflexible and do not adapt are exiled to extinction.

Human beings have undergone dramatic transformation since an early hominid first left the shelter of a forest canopy and decided to walk upright on the African continent millions of years ago. Earth, once a mere condensation of cosmic dust, gas and debris, metamorphosed from an orb of inanimate rock into a verdant home for all known living things.

A shark that does not constantly swim will suffocate. Water must flow or it becomes stagnant and putrid. If the planets stopped short in their elliptical paths, they would be sucked into the sun and incinerated. Movement is the very essence of life itself. And so the ever adaptive hominid finds himself at a threshold where he must either transform or perish. The earth’s ecosphere has radically altered once again, and while our species has been the agent of earth’s change, we must adapt to our new, self-made habitat or we will follow Australopithecus afarensis into the fossil archives.

Fortunately, we are nothing if not an industrious species. The task at hand, while seemingly enormous, is not beyond our capabilities to resolve. Once a pathetic, practically bald and clawless cave-dweller, we have evolved from a population of only a few million into the most successful species on the planet. Unfortunately, in doing so, we have transformed the earth from a habitat that was once resplendent with all the resources our species covets to one in which many of those same resources are now scarce. We have also rendered much of the planet inhospitable to life. We have achieved much, and now we must use our penchant for industry to reverse the historic destructive environmental trends of our preceding kin.

First and foremost, we must learn to embrace the verifiable and constantly changing laws of the universe, and we must learn to change with them rather than clinging to the rules of outdated dogma. The Hebrew Bible, Koran and Old Testament are mythologies. The absolute dominance of a male, all-powerful deity that rules from a remote throne results in the destruction, not the creation of life. If we insist on remaining static in these outmoded beliefs, there is no precedent to indicate our march to extinction will be averted. The hand of God has remained elusive, and the case study has now lasted more than 2,000 years with less than favorable results. Exploitation, domination and consumption without any regard for nurturance, replenishment and balance are not conducive to the support of life.

The current state of earthly affairs is enough to make a person pessimistic about the future, but scanning the history of the past few thousand years, models do exist for a better alternative and some great moral strides have already been made. There is hope for the future.

Like a proverbial phoenix, the earth has an amazing ability to regenerate and rise reborn from the ashes of cataclysm. No matter what we dish out as a species, she has the benefit of time on her side and life will flourish again. When we pollute our air, poison our water, devastate our landscapes and fill up the earth with garbage, the earth and her organisms all suffer. We are morally responsible for the catastrophic extinctions and the contamination of the planet we have fashioned, but also our own qualities of life are degraded by our activities. It is our own life-sustaining habitat we are destroying.

We alone are the masters of our domain. We can decide to live in a polluted cesspit devoid of the beauty and splendor of nature or we can evolve once again and replenish the abundant, miraculous diversity of the creation we call home. The steps we take may be small or large. Each tiny improvement towards the betterment of our environment and our earth enriches our lives and the lives of all earth’s creatures. Imagine a world where our spiritual morality once again includes reverence for the earth and all her creatures.

The evolution of the human spirit in western society has been pronounced. We undermined the fallacy of the divine right of royalty to rule over and exploit the masses. We exposed the atrocity of slavery and criminalized it in our culture. We liberated women from the caste of chattel and recognized the right of every person including women and people of color to participate through voting in the democratic process. We eliminated the hypocrisy of segregation and extended civil rights to all people regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation (well we are still working on the last group). An African-American man now stands as the 44th President of the United States. Our culture is morally evolving and while we may take several steps backward from time to time, we have been steadily moving in a positive direction.

Our truly enlightened mantra of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” must now grow and evolve to apply to all living things. The time is now to give up our misguided notion of human supremacy and exchange it for life supremacy, extending our values of equality to all other organisms and Earth herself. We cannot survive without the rest of our ecosystem no matter how advanced we may think we are. Our survival depends upon the survival of the rest of creation.

As a species, if we continue to align ourselves with a divine entity that is distant and separate from the world, we will continue to view ourselves as detached from nature. We will undoubtedly continue to engage in the harmful treatment of our planet looking to the heavens for a non-existent salvation. But, if we can evolve a new spirituality that allows us to perceive our inextricable connection to the earth, we will realize it is impossible to harm earth without harming ourselves in the process, and Homo sapiens will find the salvation he has been searching for under his feet and in his own backyard.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Literacy, Belief and the Environment - Part III

Fact and Belief

A bumper sticker depicts a fish symbol imprinted with the name Darwin being consumed by a larger fish that reads “truth.” The person that proudly displays this artwork on the back of his vehicle for all to see has a fervent belief that the theory of evolution espoused by Charles Darwin in his landmark book The Origin of Species and now embraced as fact by the vast majority of the scientific community, is a falsehood. The bumper sticker sporting fundamentalist believes instead that the two-thousand plus year old biblical rendition of creation as expressed in Genesis is irrefutable, literal truth.

Scientific expertise has come a long way since Darwin first published his idea in 1859 that species change genetically over time in response to environmental variables. We now have carbon dating, genetic testing, genome mapping and a slew of other technological advances that allow us to actually track the genetic evolution that Darwin could only imagine during his time. A lowly tree snail, Cerion spp., actually evolves so quickly that scientists can observe its genetic progression over a period of a few years giving researchers unprecedented insights into the mechanisms of evolution(1). The fossil record displays a physical testimony of the extraordinary array of permutations of organisms that roamed the earth and were the predecessors to today’s species. Numerous other scientific observations have confirmed what Darwin suspected long ago. Life forms are not immovable static entities doomed to extinction in a changing world but are instead ephemeral miracles that morph and change with their environment in an endless dance of evolution and adaptation.

Given the preponderance of proof available to support Darwin’s ideas, why do more than 40% of Americans believe the theory of evolution is an outright falsehood? Richard Dawkins in his recent book The Greatest Show on Earth – The Evidence for Evolution believes a large portion of the issue may be one of semantics(2). Frequently lacking an adequate scientific education, many fundamentalists are unaware of the meaning of the word “theory” in scientific jargon. Dawkins cites the Oxford Dictionary’s multiple definitions for the word. In science, the word theory is defined as follows:

“[a theory] has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts; [it is] a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles, or causes of something known or observed(3).”
Those who embrace the notion that the theory of evolution is a falsehood adhere to another interpretation of the word “theory,” defined as, “A hypothesis proposed as an explanation; hence, a mere hypothesis, speculation, conjecture; an idea or set of ideas about something; an individual view or notion(3).”

Clearly, the above two definitions are distinctly at odds with one another. According to the first interpretation, a theory is accepted as a factual explanation of phenomena as confirmed by all available methodologies. The second definition categorizes a theory as mere speculation at best. When scientists refer to the “theory of evolution,” they are invariably evoking the first definition. Since it is scientists that have developed, described and defined the theory, it should stand to reason that we adhere to their intentions when deciphering the meaning of their words. To do otherwise is a grave logical fallacy. Yet this is where we find ourselves as a society. Rather than absorb facts and adjust one’s beliefs to a higher level of understanding, some in our society think it is perfectly acceptable to adjust facts to fit with their beliefs.

Having duly readjusted untidy facts, the steadfast belief in the literal translation of the Judeo-Christian Bible as truth is able to persist in the American culture regardless of numerous irrefutable data that more than adequately clarify the factual inaccuracies of the Bible. More significantly, in the democratic United States, where every adult has the ability to influence public policy, fundamentalist ideals have become pervasive in the political realm on issues like population control, global warming, Middle Eastern foreign policy and resource exploitation with significant implications for the future of the planet. People’s religious beliefs would not be problematic if they were not so potentially dangerous.

Recent research studied for the first time the effect of religious belief on the brain (4). By comparing the functional MRI scans of 15 self-professed Christians and 15 non-believers, scientists were able to witness the brain’s activity when evaluating statements of basic observable facts, such as “grass is a plant,” as compared with statements of religious belief such as “Jesus was born to a virgin named Mary.” The surprising findings were that fervent religious beliefs activate the brain exactly the same as observable facts. The Christian fundamentalist that believes Jesus walked on water, does so with the same conviction that he believes he has ten fingers and ten toes.

Given the religious zealot’s certainty, it is no small wonder that any evidence that contradicts his absolute belief is disregarded as false. In this context, it is understandable, if not perplexing, that numerous far right advocates maintain the beliefs that Saddam Hussein is responsible for the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and that President Obama is a Muslim and non-citizen regardless of definitive evidence that proves without exception that these beliefs are in fact, completely untrue.

These findings have considerable repercussions for the future of our society, and the seemingly oxymoronic sentiments echoed by the fundamentalist bumper sticker echo a frightening insight beyond their intended meaning. The “truth” embraced by the adherents to Christian fundamentalist belief includes the sanctioned subjugation, rape and enslavement of women, genocide against entire cultures of people and a dictate to subdue all the life forms on the planet.

How do we proceed in a world where a large proportion of citizens are adherents to religious orthodoxy and cannot be persuaded by bona fide facts to part with their beliefs? Our current global environmental and economic cataclysm will not be thwarted by prayer alone, and our future is not predestined by a divine father dictating our fates from his heavenly throne.

Carolyn Merchant writes, “We live our lives as characters in the grand narrative into which we have been socialized as children and conform as adults. That narrative is the story told to itself by the dominant society of which we are a part. We internalize narrative as ideology. Ideology is a story told by people in power…By rewriting the story, we can challenge the structures of power. All stories can and should be challenged (5).”
Just as organisms must evolve and adapt to their environment in order to avoid extinction, the human psyche must also be flexible, expanding with and embracing new knowledge as it supersedes ignorant superstition. As Homo sapiens allowed his beliefs to expand according to newly discovered truth, he developed language, art and science and left his cave to explore the outer reaches of the universe. We must evolve or we will perish.


1- Bell, Michael, August 2002. Wonderful Life. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Volume 17, Issue 8, Page 396.

2- Dawkins, Richard, 2009. The Greatest Show on Earth – The Evidence for Evolution. Free Press Publishers, New York.

3- The Oxford English Dictionary.

4- Harris, S., Kapplan, J. et al., 2009. The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief. On the World Wide Web at

5- Merchant, Carolyn, 1996. Earthcare – Women and the Environment. Routledge Publishers, New York. Page 54.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

World Population - Part III

An Ethic of Life?

If any man’s wife go aside and is unfaithful to him, …the man shall bring his wife to the priest…let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse and say to the woman – “the Lord make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the Lod makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge; now this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!” (Numbers 5:12-22)

A PBS program entitled “Now,” addressed the growing economic insecurities of the American middle class. After lamenting the loss of her family home due to her husband’s chronic illness and inability to work, one Illinois woman, Melanie Fugate, proclaims that she could never vote for a Democrat because of the abortion issue. In the midst of her own financial ruin and the national economic disaster, not to mention wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this woman’s main concern in politics is abortion.

Melanie Fugate is not alone. The Christian Post reported recently that the abortion debate is rated as ‘very important’ to approximately 40 percent of all voters on both sides of the issue. People who care about the abortion issue are not ignorant bible bashers or immoral baby killers as current propaganda would have us all believe. Rather, people on both sides of the issue are deeply empathetic individuals, genuinely concerned about human suffering and the value of life. What both sides lack in most cases, is information, with pro-life advocates focused on the image of innocent babies meeting their end while pro-choice voters focus on the image of desperate women poised with coat hangers.

A lot of gray area exists in between the two extremes that both sides need to consider. Ultimately, everybody would like to see fewer abortions. Pro-life advocates and pro-choice proponents only disagree on the best way to go about achieving this aim. Fortunately, we do have several reliable and well researched independent studies on the topic and therefore have ample data to determine which methods are effective in reducing abortions. As a society, we must be intelligent enough to embrace the research and let our emotional biases defer to what will achieve our stated and shared goal – to preserve human life and reduce suffering.

Some of the greatest ironies today in the political realm come from the discussion on the ethics of life. People who are for the death penalty and support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan tend to be against abortion rights for women, and people who are pro-choice tend to be against the death penalty and think the war in Iraq is an atrocity against humanity. How can it be that our society is so divided when it comes to these issues with most people thinking killing is okay in some capacity but not others?

Former president George W. remarked during the presidential debates of 2004, “I think every child should be welcomed to life.” Unfortunately, the Bush administration policy did not support this claim. Healthcare for poor children was withheld, education funds were chopped, prenatal care for women in poverty is practically non-existent, and the list goes on. During the Bush administration’s tenure, 13 million precious children were relegated to a childhood of poverty in the United States of America – the richest nation on earth .

Certainly people on both sides of the abortion debate can agree that all children should be welcomed to life. We can work together to ensure that women in poverty have adequate access to reproductive health services including birth control, so they can enjoy the same rights to plan their families that more affluent women enjoy. We can all agree that the children in foster care and orphanages and those living in poverty need more of our attention as a society in order to reach their full potential.

In his book Our Endangered Values, Jimmy Carter cites a United Nations statistic that reports that 90% of women seeking abortions name poverty as the cause. Women who are well-educated and have a moderate standard of living rarely seek abortions. Doesn’t it therefore stand to reason that if we improve the lives of the souls already in existence, it will help to cut down on unwanted pregnancies?

Every child should be welcomed to life and cherished including the children who are already alive. Let’s take care of them before we force women to make the choice of raising a child in desperate poverty or giving it up for adoption.

The Old Testament clearly defines women’s lives and those of their children as the property of their husbands and fathers. We have come a long way since the days when Yahweh prescribed abortion elixirs for women suspected of cheating on their husbands. We don’t need to outlaw a woman’s right to choose whether or not to give birth. We need to create an environment where each and every woman in our society has access to the information and medical care necessary to ensure that she can prevent unwanted pregnancy in the first place and then take care of the precious children she chooses to bear. We should all be able to agree about that.

Monday, November 2, 2009

World Population - Part II

We are the Problem

For much of human history, the population remained relatively constant, growing at a slow and steady rate. Pre-historic populations never exceeded one billion souls and usually remained fairly constant at less than 5 million people.

Early humans lived lightly on the earth in hunter-gatherer societies. They had an impact on the environment by consuming resources, burning fires and creating waste; however, primitive societies did not engage in impactful activities at a pace that exceeded the natural environment’s ability to repair itself. Resources were not used up faster than the earth’s ability to regenerate them, and the wastes created were organic and were reabsorbed into the ecosystem for reuse. Earth’s blanket of vegetation greedily consumed the carbon dioxide produced by simple cooking fires, and wood and plants harvested for consumption were quickly and sustainably regenerated by nature.

Some speculations suggest early hominids may have had some long-term negative impacts on the planet resulting from over-hunting of particular species including mammoths and may have caused the extinction of those species. However, the overall natural extinction rate of the planet, which is a normal byproduct of evolutionary change, remained relatively constant during prehistoric times and was affected more significantly by natural changes such as the great ice age. Contrasted with today’s human activities, primitive man’s environmental impacts were negligible.

We have come a long way since our days as cave dwellers. Advancements in technology and industry have been a boon for our species but have come at a great expense to the planet. Often the cause of the harm we do is not what we think. When people in the developed world, sitting in cozy, climate-controlled homes and reading up on the latest diet in order to lose the extra tire of fat around their middle think about the environmental problems of over population, minds and consciences inevitably end up thinking about the developing world. We believe that the problem lies there, not in our backyard.

We look at the numbers: China has 1.3 billion people and India has 1.2 billion. Combined, these two countries have over a third the world’s population. Many developed countries actually have declining population rates. Over population is, we believe, someone else’s problem. Our firm beliefs even border sometimes on feelings of resentment for the world’s overly-fecund poor. How dare they burden our planet with their excessive procreation? Unfortunately for our smug attitudes, the impoverished are not the problem. We are.

The 2.8 billion people who survive on earth on less than $2/day are leading frugal lives with minimal environmental footprints. Under consumption, rather than over consumption is a daily reality for one third of the earth’s population. While the average person in Mozambique or Bangladesh is worrying about where their next meal is going to come from, Americans own more cars than there are people to drive them (1). The United States is home to 4% of the world’s population, yet we use up 25% of the fossil fuels consumed, and developed countries including the United States and Western Europe make up 12% of the earth’s people, yet we account for 60% of consumer spending. If all the world’s people were to live as we do, the earth and her resources would be rapidly used up.

We look at China and India with trepidation and fear. Their huge populations are a wake up call about the finite quantity of resources on the planet. If their massive populations were somehow able to rise to our level of affluence and subsequent resource consumption, there simply wouldn’t be enough stuff to go around. Our fear is not unreasonable. As oil reserves dwindle, China’s lack of enthusiasm to punish Iran for nuclear violations becomes clear. China is the leading purchaser of oil from Iran. China needs Iranian oil and can’t afford to piss Iran off. Another question is why do we think we are more entitled to the earth’s goodies than the world's poor?

As usual, our policies approach the growing crisis from the typical self-centered, winner take all American attitude. We’ll just take the oil we need through war, political manipulation and propaganda. Unfortunately, for us, these methods are becoming less and less viable as our economy and public support will no longer sustain them.

Instead of worrying about what will happen when China and India are like we are now, we should be paving the way as a shining example of how to live in sustainable balance with the environment. When their economies allow for it, they too can sustain themselves and their environment. This is a win/win solution in which everyone gets what they need without competing with others for resources. It is also the only way that we will be able to endure and maintain our current quality of life in the global decades to come.

The US has lost its competitive edge when it comes to manufacturing goods (China) and providing services (India). We need a new role for ourselves, and that role can and should be developing services, utilities, products and goods that have a net positive or net neutral environmental impact while helping developing countries to improve the quality of life for their people.

We are now fortunate enough to be able to make a choice. We have the knowhow and the technology to change our own destructive course. With our current level of technological advancement, if we cannot create a world in which every living human being can enjoy a basic standard of living and quality of life without poverty or destroying the environment and using up all of earth’s resources, then there are simply too many people on the planet. The masses of humanity that are being produced by our fruitful multiplications are destined for suffering.

The world has changed a great deal since Yahweh issued his dictate on the sixth day for humankind to fill up and subdue the earth. Yahweh should be pleased we have fulfilled His demands entirely. The earth is filled with people, and we have subdued Nature utterly. Fundamentalist Judeo Christians believe it is a sin to restrict reproduction and that we need to continue to fill up the earth according to God’s dictates even though the planet is clearly already overfilled. The Bible does not say, “Reproduce like rabbits until all of the earth is used up.” Nor does the Bible anywhere say, “Do whatever you want to the planet, and if you screw it up, God will save you.” As with many skewed interpretations of God’s words, the belief that it is morally correct to be reproductively irresponsible at the expense of all other life on earth is simply mistaken.

1- The Worldwatch Institute, 2004. State of the World – 2004. W. W. Norton & Company Publishers, New York.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

World Population - Part I

“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have domination over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth (Genesis 1.28)”

Fertility and fecundity are the earth’s mechanism for maintaining life, and she bestows the gift of reproduction upon all living things indiscriminately. The slug, toad and grain of wheat are all equipped with the miraculous capacity to regenerate their species. As seeds are planted, fawn and fowl are born and trees bear fruit, so the offerings of nature enrich and fill up the earth with abundance. Only with the continued fertility of all living things can the diversity of life on earth be sustained. Early, earth-worshipping civilizations paid homage to the phenomenon of reproductive diversity with a variety of reverent rituals.
Every year the high priestess of the Great Mother Inanna engaged with the king of the land in ritual fertility rights. The copulation of the king with the human embodiment of Mother Earth ensured fertility and abundance across the kingdom for the following year. The high priestess was also responsible for the allocation of the fruits of her gifts of fertility and distributed grain and other commodities among the people. Given the importance of her responsibilities and to maintain impartiality, the high priestess was not allowed to produce heirs of her own during her tenure lest she bestow unequal favor upon her own descendants. The worship of Inanna and observation of her sacred fertility rituals were maintained for millennia and continued after Yahweh’s people came to inhabit the lands of Mesopotamia (1).
Many of the matriarchs in the Old Testament are barren women in the tradition of the high priestess, and the text of the Bible is ripe with indications these powerful women served in the ancient role. Abraham’s wife Sarah engages in perplexing sexual encounters with Pharaoh and King Abimelech for which the couple are richly rewarded with silver, sheep and slaves. But the jealous Yahweh intervenes and puts an end to the ancient fertility ritual, symbolically sequestering the power of fertility from the earth into his own hands.
“God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “You are about to die because of the woman whom you have taken…it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her (Genesis 20.3 – 20.6).”

Once Sarah is prevented from fulfilling her ritual acts of fertility, her reign as high priestess is ended permanently when she becomes pregnant with Isaac at an unnaturally advanced age, giving her an heir and rendering her unable to perform her sacred duties forevermore. The womb of the goddess, once the vessel of fertility for all living things, became the reservoir for the children of men alone.
As Sarah’s womb became the domain of her husband Abraham and his God Yahweh, so did the womb of the earth and all her female inhabitants. Fertility, once a source of reverence, virtue and feminine domain, became sordid and was manipulated to serve the purposes of men. Rather than having the freedom to choose their own sexual partners, women became the property of their fathers and husbands. While men were free to copulate and reproduce with as many wives, slaves and concubines as they could, a woman’s virginity was carefully guarded until she was married. Once married, she would remain faithful to her husband alone under penalty of death, thus securing a man’s lineage through the sequestration of his wife’s womb.
As Yahweh and his male human followers wrestled control of fertility from the earth, the Great Mother was systematically removed from her throne and fecundity was subjected to the will of mankind. Men became the guardians and rulers over the wombs of women selfishly spreading of their own human seed and relegating the earth’s sacred fertile web of life to the subservient role of mere provision of sustenance. Rather than engaging in ritual acts of annual renewal, fertility was coveted, appropriated and controlled to suit man’s purposes. Without reverent attendance to sustaining all life, Fertile valleys became deserts, great forests fell and the great web of biodiversity now stands in peril because of man’s avaricious theft of the Great Mother’s rich fertility for his own purposes. Now, a single place on earth does not exist, that remains untouched by man and his activities.
The species Homo sapiens is what ecologists refer to as a “successful” species. It is successful because it has managed to survive and multiply at an impressive rate. Other successful species include the common housefly, rat and cockroach. Today the earth sustains almost 7 billion human beings.
As the human species proliferates, it does so at the expense of all other living things.

Every environmental problem, whether it is resource depletion, extinction, loss of biodiversity, global warming, water pollution, toxic waste or any of the countless environmental woes that now plague the planet, can be traced to a human cause. Simple mathematics dictates that increasing human populations will result in increased environmental problems. More people burning fossil fuels, more people consuming resources, more people throwing stuff away, more people going to the bathroom, etc. can only lead to more global warming, more deforestation, more toxic waste and more pollution of water, air and land. Humans alone are the species that have created this plethora of environmental destruction, and the more of us that come to fill this planet, the worse these problems will become. People are at the heart of the matter.

A healthy, diverse ecosystem implements its own population controls. The coyote controls the fecund rabbit. Wolves ensure that deer will never overrun their food supply. If by chance a population does grow out of control, disease usually corrects the imbalance. Unfortunately, the human species has upset the natural balance at almost every turn.

In spite of the obvious correlation between environmental degradation and human population growth, faithful adherents to Yahweh’s two-thousand year old creed recoil at the idea of population control. In the face of all evidence to the contrary, they believe their God will resolve any problems humankind imposes across the face of the earth. What is He waiting for? Perhaps it would be more prudent to act instead on the earth’s behalf and restore the Queen of Heaven’s sacred rite of fertility to once again embrace the glory of the diversity of all life. To do so, we must first acknowledge that as a species, the population of Homo sapiens is dangerously out of balance with the rest of the ecosystem and take systematic steps to control its growth.

1-  Wilson, Kelpie. Genesis Gets the Crumb Treatment at

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Energy - Part II

Global Warming

Imagine an extinct earth. Without her mantle of living organisms, the earth would be a sterile, bland rock-strewn orb swirling through the solar system rather than the beautiful beacon of sapphire, emerald and aqua she is today. Earth is the only known planet with life. If we take for granted life’s continued existence on her surface, we squander this greatest of miracles. Life is the exception rather than the rule in the universe. Conveniently, we don’t need to wonder what will happen if we continue down our current path of reckless destruction. Our solar system provides a case study.

Our Earth has a sister who resides one planet closer to the sun. Venus is not as different from Earth as one might think. The mass, diameter and rocky composition of the two planets are nearly identical. Venus, however, is the hottest planet in the solar system despite a dense atmosphere that allows for only about 10% of the sun’s rays to reach her surface and Mercury’s much closer proximity to the sun. Why is Venus so hot? The Venusian atmosphere is composed almost entirely of carbon dioxide resulting in a runaway greenhouse effect that heats the average surface temperature of the planet to a scorching 465 degrees Centigrade (1)*. Her atmosphere is also tainted by noxious sulfuric compounds that form corrosive acids making the surface of Venus more like a brimstone incinerator in Hell than the dwelling place for the goddess of love for which the planet is named. The toxic brew that comprises Venus’s air also contains the same constituents that we here on earth blithely spew from our coal burning power plants into our own atmosphere. We need only to look to our sister planet to see where the consequences of our actions might lead.

By measuring carbon dioxide levels in air bubbles trapped in arctic glaciers, scientists have been able to estimate atmospheric levels of the gas as far back as 1,000 C.E. Up until the beginning of the industrial revolution about two hundred years ago, CO2 concentrations remained relatively constant at around 280 parts per million (2). Once we started burning fossil fuels to energize our machines, CO2 levels started to steadily increase, and they have been going up ever since. The latest data indicates our atmospheric levels today are about 386 parts per million and rising (3). Our addiction to energy has launched one of the greatest experiments in human history.

Politics, Religion and Science
The current debate over global warming is one of the most puzzling political conundrums of the 21st century. On one side, the vast majority of atmospheric scientists from all over the world contend that a build up of certain gasses in the atmosphere including carbon dioxide emissions from global consumption of fossil fuels is causing an increase in the earth’s average temperature. On the other side is a group of entrepreneurs (mainly in the fossil fuel trade) and some politicians who receive campaign contributions from those same entrepreneurs who argue against it. The fact that there is any debate at all is a testament to the powers of propaganda. According to a recent Gallup poll, as many as 41% of Americans believe the specter of global warming is exaggerated, choosing to believe those with an economic interest over those who are actually experts on the subject (4).

Some are also manipulated into misguided ideas by their religious leaders. The late Jerry Falwell, noted televangelist millionaire completely dismisses the concept of global climate change as a tool of propaganda created by anti-establishment radicals for the sake of undermining America’s capitalist economy. He has stated, ‘I urge everyone to go out and buy a SUV today (5).” Mr. Falwell, like many fundamentalists, believes that his male God up in heaven is in control of everything here on earth. God has a plan and won’t allow humans to destroy His planet, unless of course, that is part of His plan.

Unfortunately, the simple “God is in control” explanation for everything allows humans to carry on with their destructive behavior with no need to fear the consequences. In this world view, we can just keep on going until all of the resources are contaminated or simply used up. The famine, poverty, environmental devastation and massive human suffering that have resulted are okay according to evangelicals like Falwell because God must have willed it. Humans who are clearly responsible for their own predicament are blameless. If Falwell, contrary to all scientific evidence and logic turns out to be correct, then he and a very small handful of those who embrace his ideology will be raptured away to Heaven while the rest of us continue to suffer for all eternity for our sins. On the other, more likely hand, Falwell is delusional, the earth will be dead, and we will be extinct.

Regardless of who is right, it would be prudent to err on the side of caution. Surely, a God that blessed us with the powers of intellect and the ability to apply the scientific method for logical understanding of the world around us wouldn’t have given us these gifts to ignore and actually refuse to use them. He wouldn’t have created a magnificent planet with amazing complexities and beauty so that we can pollute it, use it up and kill it. Why would He then condemn us to Hell for trying to protect and care for his marvelous creation?

Another sad aspect of our historical human nature is we suffer as a species from procrastination putting things off, even if we know we shouldn’t, until they become critical. Unfortunately, in the case of global warming, we will have to be proactive, even when the worst signs of the impending disaster are not yet obvious, if we are to be effective at controlling the problem at all.

Every time we belch pollution into the air, we are condemning the elixir we breathe and our very breath to impurity. When we absently and senselessly consume resources, we are depriving ourselves of a greater wealth. When an organism needlessly meets its demise by our senseless and selfish hand, we are depriving ourselves of a priceless miracle that material wealth can never replicate. What are the reams of waste paper, toilet paper and packaging sitting in landfills compared with an ancient forest? What is the value of driving an SUV compared with the peninsula of Florida or the isthmus of Bangladesh? How does our selfish consumption of fossil fuels compare with a Polar Bear’s right to life?

We do not need to live this way. Our human civilization, with the powers of reason and inquiry, has advanced sufficiently to be able to meet the vast majority of our energy needs with technologies that will not exterminate life on earth.
1- European Space Agency (ESA) at

2- Data from
3- Data from
4- Gallup Poll, March 11th, 2009 at
5- Outside Online Magazine, May 2005.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The United States of Delusion - Part III

The Greatest Lie Ever Perpetrated

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (Preamble to the Declaration of Independence 2.1).”

The 56 founding fathers that signed the Declaration of Independence had a revolutionary vision of democracy that would foster equality and universal opportunity. Ultimately, implementing the vision has been more complicated.

At the time of the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the United States were attempting to shrug off the vice grip of the imperialistic Fatherland that settled North America for the explicit purpose of exploiting the untapped natural and human wealth for capitalistic profit. While some early American colonies were settled for the purposes of exercising religious freedom, the vast majority of early American colonies were actually owned and operated by corporate entities that were deeded large tracts of land by the King of England in an attempt to re-establish the class and business structure that served the elite few so well in the homeland (1)*. For his beneficence, the King received handsome regular shares in the profit from the New World enterprises.

The imperial expansion of England into North America had several, less than democratic side effects. The indigenous Native American population was decimated, slaves and indentured servants comprised the majority of the labor force, and women were regarded as inferior and were hostage to the whims of their fathers and husbands. The signing of the Declaration of Independence and subsequent revolution did not alter the oppressive status quo. When the founding fathers spoke of all men being created equally, it is quite probable they were referring exclusively to white men.

After the revolution, many corporatists remained loyal to the King and were deeded substantial landholdings elsewhere in the empire, but others remained in the United States intent on securing and expanding the fortunes they had harvested from American soil exchanging their loyalty to the dying British Empire for a belief in the new American one. The same social atrocities that prevailed under the former empire were equally fortuitous for business in the new capitalist order.

The pledge of the new nation to nurture democracy was distinctly at odds with its economic goals. While industrialists enjoyed the freedom to pursue wealth unencumbered by royalty with its hand out, the labor force continued to be oppressed or at worse, enslaved. Equality did not translate across class and racial boundaries.

Industry’s interests are best served by free or very inexpensive labor and limited governmental regulation. Even today, corporations unimpeded by national boundaries, choose to operate where labor is cheap and health and environmental regulations are limited or non-existent. Individuals benefit from an exact opposite set of circumstances where they can earn a living wage for an honest day’s work, a safe and healthy work environment, sustainable resource use and an unspoiled natural environment. The ideological and class struggle continues. The biggest lie ever perpetrated is that democracy and unfettered capitalism are compatible ideologies. They are and always have been at odds with one another.

This is not to say that all aspects of free enterprise are bad. Business works best when it is accountable to society. Small businesses and local economies have traditionally fostered rather than impeded public interests. A business owner in a small town cannot treat his workers unfairly and still expect local patronage. He cannot carelessly pollute or consume public resources without consequences. A small, local farmer that is cruel to his animals or mistreats his land will soon find himself out of business. Local economies are inherently self regulating, and it is likely that this kind of community accountability is what Adam Smith had in mind when he spoke of the infamous “invisible hand (2)*” that he believed would guide business towards morally correct and fair behavior.

When Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations almost 300 years ago, the vast majority of capitalistic enterprise was in the form of small, locally owned and operated businesses. Smith could never have envisioned the limited liability corporate monolith that reigns over the modern global economy much as kings once ruled unencumbered by regulatory restraint. Yet the same corporations quote Smith as justification for their unbridled greed, pursuit of exclusive self interest and exploitation of the world’s people and our shared resources. We have exchanged the tyranny of kings for a tyranny of corporations without even realizing our blind complicity.

We have been sold a set of lies, and the mistruths are glaringly obvious. Deregulation of corporations only benefits the bottom line of corporations, not the average person. The era in United States history that enjoyed the greatest growth of the middle class and relative increases in living standards occurred after regulations and social programs were implemented during the New Deal. As we began to deregulate industry again in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the relative wealth of the middle class began to decline once again while the ultra wealthy got richer. Wealth does not trickle down; to benefit all it must percolate from the ground up.

In spite of the distortions endemic in our capitalist society, the democratic promise of equality continues in the hearts and minds of Americans and the global population. How does one pursue life, liberty and happiness? We have basic needs for life - food water, air, shelter and healthcare. To be liberated, we must be free to pursue our life’s purpose unencumbered by the dictates or tyranny of others. Things that make people happy are a supportive family and social network, a sense of satisfaction with ones work, having the basic needs of life met, enjoying health and a healthy environment and having a sense of purpose in life. In the United States of America, we have the capacity and monetary wealth to make the above ideals available to every man, woman and child regardless of race, sex, creed or sexual orientation. It is time to make our laws match our common ideals rather than the financial interests of an elite few. The promise still lives.

1- Korten, David, C. Agenda for a New Economy – From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth. Berret-Kohler Publishers Inc., San Fransisco, 2009.

2- Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Modern Library, 1937 edition.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

False Economy - Part II

Money, Money, Money, Money…Money!

Every day we go to work. We work and work and work and work, and at the end of the week or month, we are given a paper check that we take to a bank. The bank adds the numbers on the check to numbers in our bank account and sends us an email or another piece of paper in the mail that tells us our total number of dollars. Sometimes, we write on another piece of paper, a check, to get cash, or more pieces of paper. Ultimately, we can exchange our pieces of paper for goods and services, which is why we spend so much of our time and energy working for paper.

The pursuit of money is a keystone of the American dream. People are defined by their personal net worth, the job they do and the salary they earn. The higher our number, the more accomplished we feel. The number represents our success and value as a person. At some stage in our culture we began confusing money with real wealth.

The use of money is as old as civilization itself. The first form of exchange was barter. People exchanged livestock, grains, crafts and agricultural goods for other things they wanted. Barter is still a viable form of exchange today and is still practiced throughout the world. Barter has some limitations as a form of currency. If the goods one wishes to purchase or exchange are perishable or seasonal, a simple swap may not be realistic. When bartering was not practical, commodity currency was used instead. Commodity currency is a rare or scarce material that is given in exchange for goods. Commodities used for currency have included rare metals, shells, beads, wine and salt. Over time, commodity currency became standardized leading to the development of coinage.

Carrying around pockets full of gold and silver was not always convenient, so eventually, representative currency (paper money) evolved. Representative currency is like an I.O.U. In itself, the currency has no value, but it is a promissory note for something of value. The United States used representative currency until 1933. Until that time, dollars were linked to bullion of gold and silver stored at the U.S. Treasury. Gold and silver certificates represented an equal sum of money in U.S. coffers. During the Great Depression, the government needed to print money to stimulate the economy that it could not back up with bullion reserves, and the gold standard was abandoned.

Most of the world now has fiat currency, which does not represent or act as an exchange for any commodity. Rather, fiat money is printed by governments, and all creditors are legally bound to accept the fiat money to satisfy debts under penalty of law. The value of fiat money varies according to the health of the economy of the government that prints it. If a government prints money in excess of the value of goods in the economy, inflation or devaluation of the currency occurs.

Finally, much of the currency currently in global circulation doesn’t really exist at all. Credit currency resides for the most part in the memory banks of computers and in cyberspace. When we make a charge on our credit cards or take out a loan, banks lend us money they don’t actually have. Fractional Reserve banking is the system that allows banks to lend money in excess of their assets, which means banks can literally create money that does not exist. Usually, this does not pose a problem, as depositors with the bank rarely make a simultaneous run on the bank, and those with debt obligations to the bank pay them off reliably thus replenishing the negative balance of the bank back towards zero. Collateral in the form of goods like houses also ensure that the debt hole of the bank can be filled with something of value.

Banks want to engage in fractional reserve banking because they charge interest and fees and profit from lending money they don’t really have. Bank executives that make a lot of loans are rewarded with big bonuses, so they are inclined to loan money wherever they can. Banks make even more money when they bundle debts together, divide them into shares and sell the shares on the open market. The debt then becomes a speculative instrument like shares of stock and can fetch whatever price people are willing to pay, resulting in more profits for banks and more bonuses for bank executives. The shares can also be rebundled and sold again resulting in more profit, etc. The result is an upside-down pyramid resting on a tip that started when a bank lent money that never existed to begin with.

When the tip of the pyramid becomes unstable because, for example, people paid too much money for houses and now can’t afford to pay back the loan, the whole house of cards collapses revealing a shocking truth. Wall Street business as usual is nothing more than cleverly crafted financial slight of hand, and the complex financial instruments they promote are designed for the sole purpose of amplifying the wealth of the individuals and institutions that created them. While the tax payer picks up the tab for the economic havoc that resulted, those responsible for collapsing the global economy are sitting happily on bank accounts fat with the wealth squeezed out of average citizens before the sham revealed itself.

Much of our economy is based on phantom or illusory wealth. Our currencies are not based on any commodity or standard. We borrow money we don’t have from banks that don’t have it either. When a brave or honest person looks behind the curtain, the wizard reveals himself to be a pathetic old man. Sadly, rather than exploring new economic models, our government is throwing good money after bad with massive bailouts for the very institutions that got us into this situation in the first place.

Most of what makes us truly wealthy cannot be purchased with paper dollars like health, love and companionship, happy children, and a beautiful and functioning habitat. Other wealth is provided by nature and comes in the form of life’s necessities such as nutritious food, shelter, clean air and water, healthcare and energy. Unfortunately, our phantom wealth economy has managed to sequester much of what was once freely provided by nature, making some real wealth now only available to those who have the money to afford it.

While the collapse of the phantom economy has been painful for many, it also creates an opportunity to create a real wealth economy that will serve all of the organisms of the earth rather than a few elite humans. In his book Agenda for a New Economy, David Korten* provides a six-fold framework for such an economy. The real wealth economy would:

1- Provide everyone with the opportunity for a healthy, dignified and fulfilling life.
2- Bring human consumption into balance with Earth’s natural systems.
3- Nurture relationships within strong, caring communities.
4- Honor sound, rule-based market principles.
5- Support an equitable and socially efficient allocation of resources.
6- Fulfill the democratic ideal of one-person, one-vote citizen sovereignty.

It is time to take the economy back.

Korten, David, C., 2009. Agenda for a New Economy – From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth. Berrett Koehler Publishers, San Francisco.