Here is a very rough draft of Dr. Moti Nissani’s invited presented at the Sixth International Conference on Environmental Future. One day, one hopes, more academics will be able and willing to give the lie to their financial and political sponsors. For the moment though, ecology—like economics and so many other disciplines—is a captive science.
Sustainability: An Interdisciplinary Guide
This paper is comprised of two interrelated parts.
In the first, I shall question five explicit or implicit assumptions of Dr. Spanenberg’s review:
1. Do we need to expend energies and resources on setting up the new discipline of sustainability science, or should we instead focus all available scientific, economic, and political resources on tackling the problem of sustainability itself?
2. Given the dismal failure of the current political system in preventing environmental decline, is it advisable to work towards sustainability from within that system, or must we first strive to overhaul that system itself?
3. Should commercial sponsors of sustainability research have anything to do with this research’s conduct or recommendations?
4. Do we need further advances in knowledge to achieve sustainability now, or do we have already all the required information and only lack the necessary political framework for implementing it?
5. hould each one of us reconcile himself/herself to never acquiring interdisciplinary mastery of the sustainability problem as a whole?
The second part of my response has three goals.
1. Showing that one person can and should try to gain a holistic understanding of such complex topics as sustainability, freedom, peace, or social justice.
2. Illustrating the type of approach that is required to enhance compassion, rationality, and survivability in the modern world.
3. Providing an interdisciplinary guide to specialists and others who are not content to merely explore a fraction of reality. With proper guidance from people who have made this holistic journey on their own, one car readily acquire an informed interdisciplinary view of the contemporary world. To begin your interdisciplinary journey, you may wish to read every reference below that is flanked by < >
While rejecting Spannenberg’s five assumptions, this second part will wholeheartedly embrace Dr. Spanenberg’s view that only a holistic approach can meaningfully address the extremely complex and multi-faceted problem of sustainability. I shall first touch upon the multiplicity of anthropogenic threats to the biosphere, (e.g., nuclear warfare, nuclear power, genetic engineering, climate change, widespread dispersal of synthetic chemicals, overpopulation), arguing that when these, future threats, and systemic political corruption are taken together, the probability of an irreversible damage to the biosphere is worrisomely high. Next, I shall argue that our political systems are broken, and that, for at least thirty years, all political decisions betrayed the public’s and the biosphere’s interests and merely served a handful of extremely rich and powerful in the USA (the most powerful country in the world, and the worst environmental degrader). I shall then attempt to provide a partial answer to the question: How could a few banking families gain such disproportionate wealth and power? Next I shall speculate on these families’ long-term self-destructive behavior (after all, they do breathe the same air as the rest of us, and they too would need 80,000 years to reach the nearest habitable planet). I shall then trace our species’ irrational and heartless conduct to its roots, relying on relevant insights from such diverse disciplines as biology, astronomy, political science, economics, psychology, and literature. I shall then move on to the question: How can humanity maximize its long-term chances of living harmoniously within nature? A closer look at classical Ancient Athens may provide one answer. Two key features of Athens’ astounding cultural, quality-of-life, and political achievements (which in my view were never surpassed: if given a choice at the time of my birth, I would have preferred 50 years as an ordinary Athenian citizen during Athens’ golden age, to 90 years as a US citizen now) were direct democracy (citizens voting on major policy issues), and abundant silver and copper money issued by the state (as opposed to the contemporary prevailing, inherently unsustainable, model of privately-owned, for-profit, central banks employing fractional reserve banking, fiat currencies, destructive manipulations of the money supply, and money as debt). Besides these two key aspects, and despite many abhorrent features of the Athenian polity, (including slavery, oppression of women, imperial ambitions, corruption, and onerous naturalization laws), Athens could teach us many other lessons, e.g., economic self-sufficiency of the average household, a genuine free enterprise system (largely absent in modern so-called capitalist societies), a less materialistic world view, a small state, limited government (imagine a world with no policemen, no CIA assassinations, no Gulags, no state-appointed judges, no institutionalized suppression of curiosity, no state-sponsored lies about the past (see < James W. Loewen, 1995, Lies My Teacher Told Me>), minimal taxation, involvement of the majority in civic affairs, a free market of ideas and educational systems, and nominating political leaders and judges/jurors by lottery (thus minimizing the role of psychopaths in directing human affairs). This move towards genuine (direct) democracy confronts us with a seemingly insurmountable challenges: How can we overcome the dogged resistance to a genuine democracy from the handful of powerful bankers and their allies in the corporate- political-military-academic-media complex who are manifestly indifferent to the ongoing, needless, and potentially suicidal assault on the physical and biological foundations of life itself? One possible solution is for reformers of all stripes to focus on just one root of environmental decline: political bribery. Another solution is provided following the footsteps of such historical figures as Thrasybolus, Wilhelm Tell, Thomas Jefferson, and Emiliano Zapata.
Part I. A Critical Thinking Exercise: My Response to Dr. Spannenberg’s Paper
Following Eduardo Galeano (<I hate to bother you, 2009: http://dissidentvoice.org/2009/08/i-hate-to-bother-you/>) is that we are living in an upside down world:
Nowadays the world is sad because fewer vehicles are sold. One of the consequences of the global crisis is a decline of the otherwise prosperous car industry. Had we some shred of common sense, a mere fragment of a sense of justice, would we not celebrate this good news? Could anyone deny that a decline in the number of automobiles is good for nature, seeing that she will end up with a bit less poison in her veins? Could anyone deny the value of this decline in car numbers to pedestrians, seeing that fewer of them will die?
Here’s how Lewis Carroll’s Queen explained to Alice how justice is dispensed in a looking glass world:
“There’s the King’s Messenger. He’s in prison now, being punished: and the trial doesn’t begin until next Wednesday: and of course the crime comes last of all.”
Most people, ecologists included, disagree with Galeano’s view that we live in an upside-down world. So, the task of most listeners is the extremely difficult one of paradigm shift.
This is, moreover, excerbated by the following:
So, I must begin with a plea: Think it possible it takes more than a Ph.D. in some discipline, or regularly reading the Guardian and Watching the BBC or CNN, to even have a glimpse of what reality looks like.
I cannot possibly cover the subject matter in 15 minutes. So I’m only going to provide an outline here. If you are interested in finding out more, you can pick up a full paper here, or read it online at:
This part puts to rest five explicit or implicit assumptions of Dr. Spanenberg’s paper:
Premise #1: Do we need to expend energies and resources on setting up the new discipline of sustainability science, or should we instead focus all the scientific, economic, and political resources we have on creating a system that does not sew the seeds of its own destruction? Several reasons lead me to reject the idea of sustainability science:
a. We know perfectly well how sustainability can be achieved. To do this, we can employ existing technologies and re-acquire our ancestors’ respect for nature. Let me give you a few examples of the kind of readily available steps that could, if given a chance, transform the world:
Appendix 1 provides a few examples of the sustainable-earth path which were old hat even by then (for more details, see,: The greenhouse effect: an interdisciplinary perspective. Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 17: 459-489 (1996) Online: http://www.is.wayne.edu/mnissani/PAGEPUB/GREENp&e.htm.
): and includes such known technologies as recycling and 80 mpg cars.
We know as well the legal, ideological, and spiritual changes that are required. In theory, at least, the world’s leader in this regard is Bolivia, (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/apr/10/bolivia-enshrines-natural-worlds-rightsBolivia enshrines natural world's rights with equal status for Mother Earth) where a new
“Law of Mother Earth expected to prompt radical new conservation and social measures in South American nation) where “he law, which is part of a complete restructuring of the Bolivian legal system following a change of constitution in 2009, has been heavily influenced by a resurgent indigenous Andean spiritual world view which places the environment and the earth deity known as the Pachamama at the centre of all life. Humans are considered equal to all other entities.” Under this law, “the government is expected to establish a ministry of mother earth and to appoint an ombudsman. It is also committed to giving communities new legal powers to monitor and control polluting industries.” Since Bolivia is a small country, since it lacks sophisticated intelligence apparatus, and since, until recently, it has always been a colony of some empire or another, the chances that such legislation will be allowed to be implemented, or that its authors be allowed to die of natural causes, are pretty slim (see Economic Hit Man; Lives in the Balance, Chap. 8). But these dismal prospect are besides the point here. The point here that we know what we must do to save the earth, and that we do not need a new science to do so.
Science is neutral, and advances our knowledge, but, in the present political system, it, on balance, only aggravates the human prospect. The belief that creating another science is going to solve our problems is not consistent with the historical record.
The creation of a new science would give us a feeling that we have been doing something, thereby providing a cover for environmental delinquents a cover. These delinquents will happily fund the new science—and merrily continue to inflict irreparable harm on the biosphere.
Premise #2. Given the steady environmental decline of the past century, is it realistic to expect sustainability from the present economic and political system? Throughout his paper, Spannenberg tacitly assumes that we can achieve sustainability within the present political framework. This is a grave error of judgment. Our present system—which gives tremendous power to a handful of bankers and almost no power to the vast majority—cannot possibly achieve sustainability. We cannot save ourselves by working within the system, only by bringing about its radical transformation.
The record is absolutely clear: yearly, the situation is getting worse, and the risks multiplied. Here and now a serious threat might be partially address, but, in the meantime, a myriad of new threats arise.
Take, for instance, the question of nuclear power. In 1977 Ralph Nader and John Abbot (The Menace of Nuclear Power) conclusively showed that this was clearly a Faustian bargain. Do we really need such a sophisticated technology to boil water? If the entire nuclear cycle is taken into effect, does this technology produces net electricity at all, or merely enrich the coffers of General Electric at taxpayers’ expense? Could this technology survive without massive government subsidies? “How vulnerable is our society to nuclear theft and sabotage, nuclear wastes, atomic proliferation and the secret, garrison-state mentality associated with the diffusion of technologies that present such awesome risks?” “What are the justifications for continuing taxpayer subsidies and limited liability?” “Why are plans to evacuate populations around atomic plants needed but neither publicized nor practiced?” “What are the full facts about workers’ exposure to radioactivity from the mines to the reprocessing plants?” They concluded their factual analysis with a passionate plea: “The world’s people must stand firm against the unforgiving malignant giant that is nuclear fission. . . . Let us hope] that our descendants will not curse their ancestors.”
Maybe our rulers in 1977 were not terribly intelligent, maybe they suffered from hubris and could not see the obvious. But now the record is clear. The world has suffered at three major nuclear accidents whose consequences are truly frightening. There have been thousands of leaks and minor accidents. When people in so-called democracies are asked, they overwhelmingly reject this malignant technology, as the people of Italy recently showed in a referendum. But even now, logic, science, common decency, and the wishes of the majority, countries like China, the USA, and Britain plan to expand nuclear power.
And there are countless other examples showing that the biosphere is getting sicker by the day. The Cold War has ended, but the risk of nuclear war has probably remained the same. The corporate media now and then talks about disappearing bees, bumble bees, bats, or frogs, but the reality of species extinction is far worse, and the consequences, although unknown, could be catastrophic. Driven by the profit motive, and only by the profit motive, genetic engineers are playing with the very architecture of life and evolution. Our oceans, air, topsoil, forests, rivers, lakes are daily degrading. Our grandparents were half as likely to suffer from cancer as we are. Asthma, autism, and a lot more health problems are on the rise.
In fact, this decline can be readily traced to an important generalization: “In the USA and most other countries, whenever there is a conflict between the short-term interests of one or more wealthy and powerful individuals or corporations on one hand, and the rest of humanity—and even the survival of the biosphere on the other hand—the oligarchs always win.”
This point is worth repeating. In some countries, such as Switzerland with its direct democracy, and, on rare occasions, in the Scandinavian countries with their somewhat above-average political traditions, the public interest might, now and then, win. On the other, in the USA and England, over the past 30 years, there has not been one, repeat not one, major political decision that favored the interests of humanity over the interests of the same few banking families that equally control these two countries (note: I’ll be most happy if you, dear reader, can prove me wrong).
It is delusional to expect this broken system to achieve sustainability. Jonathan swift said: “The yahoos were a species of animals utterly incapable of amendment.” I shall later show how wrong he was. Instead, what he should have said was this:. “The yahoos are prone to creating political systems utterly incapable of amendment, and they find it exceedingly difficult to lose faith in such systems.”
To conclude: Working within the system to attain sustainability is working in defiance of current political realities. The system has reached a level of corruption that can no longer be repaired from within. If you want your grandchildren to have a decent world to live in, you must strive for an overhaul of our entire political and economic system.
Premise #3. Should the economic sponsors of sustainability research have anything to do with its conduct or recommendations?
The NO to this question is even more emphatic than the previous NOs. In economics, in ecology, in medicine, an enormous amount of research shows that he who pays the piper calls the tune. If you want to even have a semblance of truthfulness, you must dissociate yourself from any economic “sponsor” whatsoever. It is far better, the record shows, not to conduct any research, than to conduct it under the auspices of the likes of Monsanto, Glaxso, or Nike. These entities have no interest in the truth, and admittedly so. All their actions are directed at maximizing returns and power to the CEOs, and, at times, maximizing growth, marketshare, and profits for the corporation itself. They sponsor research because they want to distort inconvenient truths. If you want truth, and real science of sustainability, you must keep the corporations on the other side of the moon, if possible. It is in conformity with the entire historical record (for a detailed review and supporting material, see Lives in the Balance, Chapter 9, section on Experts), but let cite a generalization by one other expert: Collingridge:*
The traditional view of expert opinion is . . . radically mistaken. An expert is traditionally seen as neutral, disinterested, unbiased. . . . On the view proposed here . . . an expert is best seen as a committed advocate. . . . It is notorious that the opinion of an expert . . . can often be predicted from knowledge of which group has his affiliation. (Collingridge, David. The Social Control of Technology. 1980. pp. 12, 183
I’ll give you another quotation, just in case you are under the illusion that things have changed in the last 30 years. Here is a quote from Charles Ferguson, the producer of Inside Job, explaining the misfortunes of an entire captive discipline:
Starting in the 1980s, and heavily influenced by laissez-faire economics, the United States began deregulating financial services. Shortly thereafter, America began to experience financial crises for the first time since the Great Depression. The first one arose from the savings-and-loan and junk-bond scandals of the 1980s; then came the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s, the Asian financial crisis; the collapse of Long Term Capital Management, in 1998; Enron; and then the housing bubble, which led to the global financial crisis. Yet through the entire period, the U.S. financial sector grew larger, more powerful, and enormously more profitable. By 2006, financial services accounted for 40 percent of total American corporate profits. In large part, this was because the financial sector was corrupting the political system. But it was also subverting economics.
Over the past 30 years, the economics profession—in economics departments, and in business, public policy, and law schools—has become so compromised by conflicts of interest that it now functions almost as a support group for financial services and other industries whose profits depend heavily on government policy. The route to the 2008 financial crisis, and the economic problems that still plague us, runs straight through the economics discipline. And it's due not just to ideology; it's also about straightforward, old-fashioned money.
Prominent academic economists (and sometimes also professors of law and public policy) are paid by companies and interest groups to testify before Congress, to write papers, to give speeches, to participate in conferences, to serve on boards of directors, to write briefs in regulatory proceedings, to defend companies in antitrust cases, and, of course, to lobby. This is now, literally, a billion-dollar industry. The Law and Economics Consulting Group, started 22 years ago by professors at the University of California at Berkeley (David Teece in the business school, Thomas Jorde in the law school, and the economists Richard Gilbert and Gordon Rausser), is now a $300-million publicly held company. Others specializing in the sale (or rental) of academic expertise include Competition Policy (now Compass Lexecon), started by Richard Gilbert and Daniel Rubinfeld, both of whom served as chief economist of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division in the Clinton administration; the Analysis Group; and Charles River Associates.
In my film you will see many famous economists looking very uncomfortable when confronted with their financial-sector activities; others appear only on archival video, because they declined to be interviewed.
Premise #4. Do we need further advances in knowledge to achieve sustainability now, or do we have already all the required knowledge but lack the necessary political framework for implementing it?
That question has been dealt with above. The answer is that we have known for a very long time what must be done. For instance, we have already better ways of boiling water than nuclear fission and the burning of coal. Another example: We can save money and make major moves towards sustainability by conservation, e.g., manufacturing cars that give us 100 mpg, disregarding the profit margins of British Petroleum. We can halt population growth through sex education, family planning, improved living standards for all, and similar measures. The question is only: Are we willing to face the unintended consequences of such actions, e.g., less profitable wars, lower rates of consumption of things we do not need and can’t afford to buy, placing greater value on freedom and human dignity?
Premise #5. Should each one of us reconcile himself/herself to never acquiring sufficient mastery of the sustainability problem as a whole?
Most people, Stanenberg included, believe that an educated person cannot acquire a sufficiently firm grasp of all the disciplines that are needed to be applied to such practical, complex problems as sustainability. As I’ve argued elsewhere, this view condemns us to perpetual ignorance, and it indirectly condemns our species to destruction. It is only when we begin to grasp the whole forest, the entire human condition, that we can possibly begin to heal the planet and our society. We can’t rely on a team of experts, financed by industry, to do this for us. We must, ourselves, take the pains of educating ourselves. That is the best path to a sustainable future:
Each one of us can, and should, become an interdisciplianrian. I shall provide an illustration and a guide below showing how it can be done. Right now, I should like to point to one reason of many (many others are given here) why it should be done.
Here is economist Herman Daly:
"Probably the major disservice that experts provide in confronting the problem of mankind is dividing the problem into little pieces and parceling them out to specialists....Although it is undeniable that each specialty has much of importance to say, it is very doubtful that the sum of all these specialized utterances will ever add to a coherent solution, because the problems are not independent and sequential, but highly interrelated and simultaneous. Someone has to look at the whole, even if it means foregoing full knowledge of all the parts"
In a 1997 paper, Ten Cheers for Interdisciplinarity: The Case for Interdisciplinary Knowledge and Research.
Source: Social Science Journal 34 (#2): 201-216 (1997). Internet source for full text, http://www.is.wayne.edu/mnissani/PAGEPUB/10CHEERS.HTM
, I provided additional reasons why each one of us must become a holistic thinker, if we are ever to solve the sustainability problem (and many others). Here I’d like to quote just one extensive reason, closely related to Daly’s quote above:
Complex or Practical Problems: Suppose that you wished to understand the Soviet-American Cold War. Suppose further that you were interested in fathoming this entire conflict, not merely one or another of its aspects. A few years and a few bookshelves later, you might realize that most experts have failed to arrive at a self-contained portrait because they examined this subject from a single disciplinary perspective. An integrated approach, you might conclude, holds a greater promise of bringing you closer to a firm grasp of this complex subject than any important but one-sided study. Thus, in this particular instance, you may begin with history. At some point of your ambitious undertaking, you would realize that history falls short, and that the Third World policies of both America and Russia are important to your subject. At another point you might conclude that the theories and practices of totalitarianism and democracy must be understood as well. You may prolong this branching out process for a while, until a reasonably coherent picture emerges. If you persevered, your broad synthesis may well embody a deeper understanding than any uni-disciplinary approach could possibly muster.
Or suppose you wanted to understand the nature of political liberties. You might examine the subject from a philosophical perspective, and, if you are an original thinker, come up with some interesting observations. Or you might examine it from a historical standpoint, focusing perhaps on the conflict between Athens and Sparta, or between the Third Reich and France. Or, if you happened to be a science historian, you might focus on the similarities between scientific and democratic decision-making. All these disciplinary contributions may be valuable. But some hunters for truth go beyond this point: when their quarry ignores human-made "no trespassing" signs, they continue the chase. If, besides this interdisciplinary resolve, they also have an original mind, they may end up writing an epoch-making book on the Open Society and its Enemies.
In such cases, those who stop at the disciplinary edge run the risk of tunnel vision. Besides these obvious intellectual costs (cf. Saxe, 1945), narrow disciplinarity is frequently accompanied by a social cost. It is possible, for instance, that the high costs and risks humanity endured throughout the Cold War period are traceable in part to the tunnel vision of decision-makers and their academic advisors (Nissani, 1992). Humanity's use of new reproductive technologies is open to a similar interpretation:
Bertrand Russell's (1960, p. xv) characterization of politics may still merit our attention: "It is the custom among those who are called 'practical' men," he says, "to condemn any man capable of a wide survey as a visionary: no man is thought worthy of a voice in politics unless he ignores or does not know nine tenths of the most important relevant facts."
Even well-meaning statesmen may err because they do not understand the technical, social, or scientific aspects of a policy:
It is dangerous to have two cultures which can't or don't communicate. . . . Scientists can give bad advice and decision-makers can't know whether it is good or bad. On the other hand, scientists in a divided culture provide a knowledge of some potentialities which is theirs alone. All this makes the political process more complex, and in some ways more dangerous, than we should be prepared to tolerate for long, either for the purposes of avoiding disasters, or for fulfilling . . . a definable social hope." (Snow, 1964b, p. 98).
The intellectual, social, and personal price of narrow compartmentalization has been often remarked upon (Boulding, 1977; Easton, 1991; Eliade, 1977; Gaff, 1989; Gass, 1972; Mayville, 1978; Petrie, 1986). Indeed, history might have been different if the experts who developed fire retardants in children's nightwear examined their mutagenic potential (Swoboda, 1979), if the people who put together the Aswan Dam had been trained to remember the large picture, if the people who marketed thalidomide looked beyond its tranquilizing and economic potential. An interdisciplinary background may have not caused industry experts to adopt a more balanced view of the tobacco/cancer link, but it might have tempered their outright advocacy of smoking.
In more general terms, "recent history is filled with cautionary tales [all showing] the dangerous, sometimes fatal, narrowness of policies recommended by those who possess expert knowledge." Experts prefer quantifiable variables, they tend to ignore contextual complexity, and their scope is often limited (Marx, 1989). All too often, experts forget that "problems of society do not come in discipline-shaped blocks" (Roy, 1979, p. 165).
Of the many episodes which capture our society's disciplinary dilemma in more personal terms, I should like to relate one. It involves a nuclear weapons scientist who gradually became alienated from his work. His epiphany came in
the experience he had in the mid-1980s when visiting the Soviet Union for the first time: Walking in Red Square . . . [seeing] so many young people . . . he began to weep uncontrollably. . . . Before that, Moscow had been no more than a set of lines at various levels of rads and pressures and calories per square centimeter that one had to match with the bombs. (Lifton & Markusen, 1990, pp. 273-274)
Again, for all I know, the production of nuclear weapons could be justified on moral grounds, but this is not the point here. To democrats and humanitarians, the frightening point is this: in this world of specialists, a highly educated person can be unaware of the social and moral dimensions of her actions. H. G. Wells said someplace that history is a race between education and catastrophe, but this captures only part of our plight. Ironically, in this age, one may know much about a subject and yet know little about its ramifications. I for one know decent people who know everything about the chemistry of CFCs and nothing about the ozone layer (Nissani, 1996); everything about internal combustion engines and nothing about global warming; everything about minimum wage legislation and nothing about poverty. Compartmentalization, besides lack of education, is the enemy; an enemy that can only be conquered through holistic scholarship and education:
Permit me to touch upon yet another reason to strive for holistic thinking, this time addressing the question: How do you wish to live your own life. If you accept Dr. Stannenberg’s pessimism, if you give up on understanding reality itself and consign yourself to a fragment, here is where you will end up:
Previously, men could be divided simply into the learned and the ignorant, those more or less the one, and those more or less the other. But your specialist cannot be brought in under either of these two categories. He is not learned, for he is formally ignorant of all that does not enter into his specialty; but neither is he ignorant, because he is "a scientist," and "knows" very well his own tiny portion of the universe. We shall have to say that he is a learned ignoramus, which is a very serious matter, as it implies that he is a person who is ignorant, not in the fashion of the ignorant man, but with all the petulance of one who is learned in his own special line. (Ortega y Gassett, 1932)
Part II: The Road to a Holistic Vision of Sustainability and Other Complex Problems
In the second part of my response, I shall try to illustrate the type of approach that, in my view, is needed to study and achieve sustainability. While rejecting the five assumptions above, this illustration will wholeheartedly embrace Dr. Spanenberg’s view that only a holistic approach can meaningfully address the extremely complex and multi-faceted problem of sustainability
I have been taken the less-traveled decades ago, and will based this illustration and guide to interdisciplinarity onf my own experiences. Looking back, I now realize one roadblock was lack of guidance. Every bit of information is of course is important, and ideally one would become as well informed on a subject as the top expert in that field. But that cannot be done. The best one can hope for is a bird’s eye view of reality itself, and the key insights that any given discipline has to offer.
A second roadblock involved distinguishing wheat from chaff. Economics, history, sociology, psychology, literature, and, at times even the hard sciences, are captive disciplines. Most of what is being published in the contemporary world—books, articles, news in the corporate media, movies—is carefully controlled. You know as a scientist that you have to dance to the tune of any would-be editor (see my plight of the obscure innovator in science), and the situation is far worse when dealing with the likes of the Guardian or BBC. This poses an enormous problem for truth-seekers: How, knowing almost nothing in a given discipline, can you discern quality, originality, and truthfulness?
These two roadblocks, it seems to me, explain in part the mistaken view that it’s virtually impossible, in our age, to become a holistic thinker. With a proper travel guide, I believe, . That is what I’d like to do now: provide a brief summary of the situation, starting with humanity’s environmental predicament, and provide key references for each critical angle in that emerging story. If you start with this summary, then branch out to the references provided, and then branch out on your , you might, at the end of a 3-months summer vacation, meet Daly’s injunction “to look at the whole.”
Humanity’s environmental predicament:
How bad is our situation? Would humanity survive the next 200 years?
No one knows the answer, but the important point is that it reasonable to ask that question. It could well be that “Intelligence” such as ours could well be a self-limiting property—it is bound to destroy itself (that would explain why no extraterrestrials have never visited us—a technological civilization destroys itself long before it solves the speed of light problem). Asimovs New Guide to Science (Penguin Press Science) raises the question: Given the size of the universe, there must be millions of livable planets. It’s hard to believe that life we experience here on earth is unique, and one would naturally assume that life, and intelligent life, exists elsewhere. The universe, in fact, ought to be crawling with intelligent life. Some of them must be far more advanced that we are, and look what we have accomplished, technologically speaking, in a few hundreds years. Surely, some of these extraterrestrial civilizations are far older than us, and have mastered the speed of light travel problem. So, why don’t we hear from them? The probable answer, Asimov says, is that intelligence is a self-limiting property: Evolution creates technological sophistication, but not wisdom. It does not allow its creatures to transcend their reptilian brains, their dark side. Long before it solves the speed of light problem, a civilization destroys itself.
Here are a couple of examples from a July 2011 United Nation study (World Economic and Social Survey 2011 http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/policy/wess/wess_current/2011wess.pdf)
The incidence of natural disasters has increased fivefold since the 1970s. This increase can, with a fair degree of certainty, be attributed in part to climate change induced by human activity (p. ix).
And echoing earlier warnings from writers and institutions such as Rachel Carson (Silent Spring), Barry Commoner (optimistically mis-titled <The Closing Circle*>), National Academy of Sciences, World’s Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, <Asimov and Pohl, Our Angry Earth>, this U.N. study cautions us once more that “humanity is on the verge of breaching planetary sustainability boundaries” and heading towards “a major planetary catastrophe.” (p. 12) (for a recent, readable, update, see George Tyler Miller, Scott Spoolman, 2008, Living in the Environment).
The first thing a holistic thinker must do is convince herself that we’re at risk. I touched above upon some of the risks, but one needs an overview—especially since our standards sources of information bypass this critical question of human extinction. Two factual reviews detailed enough to convince you that Asimov’s (and many others’) concerns are grounded in reality are:
Asimov and Pohl
The key take-home point from such surveys is not one another tipping point, but the multiplicity of threats, the daily arrival of new antropogenic threats, our inability to predict the outcome of these threats on something as complex as the biosphere, and our failure to give precedence to natural laws (see Paul Watson; Nissani, 1996). We survive a dozens threats, but we are unlikely to survive thousands, and yet our political systems excels at introducing new ones. We shall have to be extremely lucky, or the earth must be exceedingly resilient, to be forever lucky and wreckless. You can’t play Russian Roulette forever.
It takes a science fiction writer to fully grasp the irony and hopelessness of our situation. In Karel Capek's humorously pessimistic War with the Newts, exceptionally clever and prolific salamanders are encountered in some far off bay. At first their discoverers offer them knives and protection from sharks in exchange for pearls. Gradually, however, many of the world's nations avail themselves of these creatures for other purposes, including war. In a few years, the salamanders run out of living space. To accommodate their growing numbers, they flood countries, one at a time. To do this, they need supplies from countries elsewhere and from merchants of the soon-to-be ravaged country itself. Needless to say, the salamanders have no trouble securing everything they need. At the end, humanity is on the verge of sinking and drowning; not so much by the newts, but by its greed, shortsightedness, and colossal stupidity.
A similar conclusión is reached in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (http://theliquidsociety.info/liquidpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Kurt-Vonnegut-Cats-Cradle.pdf). A typical pasage:
And I remembered _The Fourteenth Book of Bokonon_, which I had read in its
entirety the night before. _The Fourteenth Book_ is entitled, "What Can a
Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past
It doesn't take long to read _The Fourteenth Book_. It consists of one
word and a period.
This is it:
When solutions to the problems of human ecology are considered, all roads seem to lead to the political arena. Paul Ehrlich et al.(Paul R. Ehrlich et al., Human Ecology (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1973), p. 268). Found this in: http://trumpeter.athabascau.ca/index.php/trumpet/article/view/205/278
As I have noted earlier, to begin to understand our destructive policy, you must realize that most of us live in kleptocracies, or plutocracies, or incipient fascist state, and that most (or all) of their policies have always served the interests of a handful of oligarchs. Any time you hear Cameron, or Sarkozy, or Obama talk, you must realize that they are indeed working for someone—but that someone ain’t you.
Eduardo Galeano puts it well: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yz2nb32nA6U&feature=related): The other day, I heard about a cook who organized a meeting of birds—chickens, geese, turkeys, peasants, and ducks. And I heard what the cook told them. The cook asked them with what sauce they would like to be cooked. One of the birds, I think it was a humble chicken, said: “We don’t want to be cooked in whichever way.” And the cook explained that this topic was out of the question. It seems to me interesting, that meeting, for it is a metaphor for the world. The world is organized in such a way that we have the right to choose the sauce in which we shall be eaten.
Or consider rising food prices and hunger. Textbooks and newspapers treat them as consequences of free markets. In reality, we can feed everyone, and well, and hunger is the result, of cold, calculating, vicious planning, as William Engdhal recently explained (http://www.financialsense.com/contributors/william-engdahl/2011/06/29/getting-used-to-life-without-food-part-1):
For some two billion people in the world who spend more than half of their income on food, the effects have been horrifying. During the speculation-driven grain price explosion in 2008, more than a quarter billion people became what the UN terms "food insecure," or a total of one billion human beings, a new record. That need never have occurred had it not been for the diabolical consequences of the US Government deregulating grain speculation, with support from the US Congress over the past decade or more.
It is not easy to concede the veracity of Galeano’s analysis, for it flies against everything we have been taught in schools, at the movies, at our favorite TV programs. . Unless and until enough of us realize that the system is broken, the situation will only get worse—and it not only the biosphere that is at stake, but also freedom, genuine democracy, growing poverty, growing income inequality (see also: . Terror Agains the Biosphere.
A Causal Analysis of Obscene Concentrations of Wealth and Power
The textbook belief in the sanctity of checks and balances is patently false. In the real world, a few dozens families, or perhaps a few hundred, control the economic and political affairs of most nations. This begs the question: How did so much power fall into so very few itchy palms?
This story of the concentration of power has been told many times (Web of Debt; the Money Masters. Naomi Klein), but it must be briefly mentioned here too, for without it, we cannot understand humanity’s ongoing war against the biosphere.
In modern times, the concentration of economic power begins, according to students of the matter, with goldsmiths. Gold, the once and future money, was too risky to keep in one’s pockets, especially for people who owned quite a bit of that metal. In a typical European town of a few centuries ago, gold could be most safely stored (for a small fee) with the local goldsmith, who typically had strong lockbox and a good reputation. And now comes a simple fact that changed the world forever: Some goldsmiths realized that the chance that more than, say, 10% of the owners would claim their gold at any given time was infinitesimally small. So their started lending up to 90% of other people’s gold, charging interest and pocketing it themselves. This fraud is called fractional reserve banking, and it exists, albeit now with fiat money and some variations, in most nations.
Now try to work out this system mathematically. Let us imagine an island nation with a fixed amount of gold, say, 10,000 one-ounce coins. Since not enough new gold is being mined, and since the banker is regularly collecting interest on money that does not belong to him, and since the interest lenders pay must come from the fixed amount of gold (or silver) in circulation, eventually, all things being equal, almost all money (and hence political power) will belong to our banker. He has contributed nothing to society, and accumulated his wealth and power through fraud, and yet now he the island’s master.
The modern banking system is based on that same principle of fractional reserve banking: Creating money out of thin air. The privately owned Central Bank of the United States is based on this principle, and it maximizes the already-vast profits of its owners (a few international banks) through similar sleights of hand. And like the banker in our imaginary island, the owners of the Federal Reserve form the real government of the USA. All other branches are, for the most part, smoke and mirrors.
Amschell* Rothschild, The founder of the dynasty that now (along with the Rockefellers and a few other dynasties) controls the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the BIS, IMF, World Bank, reportedly understood this:
"Give me control of a nations money supply and I care not who makes the laws"”
And so did many others:
"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered" -- Thomas Jefferson said in 1802
"I have the Confederacy before me, and the bankers behind me, and for my country I fear the bankers most." Abraham Lincoln.
Ellen Brown (*):
Sir Josiah Stamp, director of the Bank of England and second richest man in Britain in the 1920s. 1927 at U of Tex:
The modern banking system manufactures money out of nothing. . . Bankers own the earth. Take it away from them but leave them the power to create money, and, with a flick of a pen, they will create enough money to buy it back again. Take this great power away from them and all great fortunes like mine will disappear, for then this would be a better an happier world to live in. . . But, if you want to continue to be the slaves of the bankers and pay the cost of your won slavery, then let bankers continue to create money and control credit.
To this one only need to add: Given the plethora of environmentally destructive technologies that have been invented since 1927, now it is not only a question of freedom of slavery, but of the very survival of our species.
Taylor Caldwell, Captains and the Kings, 1972:
The peoples of all nations are helpless, whether they live in America, Europe, Russia, China, Africa, or South America. They will always be helpless until they are aware of their real enemy. President John F. Kennedy knew what he was talking about when he spoke of "the Gnomes of Zurich."
The fractional reserve system—the legal right of certain privileged, privately-owned, institutions to fraudulently lend money that does not belong to them-- explains why most Americans do not own their own residences—the banks do. It explains why Greece and the USA are saddled with enormous debts. It provides a partial explanation for wars, poverty, hunger, and an ever more fragile biosphere. It explains why, in most Western cities, international banks are often house in the tallest buildings. It explains inflation, and deflation, recessions, and depressions. It explain, above all, humanity’s failure to safeguard the biosphere.
Can the Self-Destructive Behavior the Owners-of-almost-everything be Explained?
What I’ve just concluded—that our system is heartless and irrational—seems absurd. After all, our owners (to use George Carlin’s phrase*) are human beings too, breathing the same air we do. After all, they cannot be expected to destroy the biosphere and expect to survive?
I must confess that I don’t have a clear answer to this question. All I can offer at this point are speculations.
The first speculation involves ignorance. Oligarchs like the Rockefellers and Rothschilds seem to be extremely shrewd when it comes to robbing us of our wealth and freedom, but they might be unaware of the grave risks their actions pose to the biosphere, themselves, and their descendants.
A related explanation (one version of this is Lincoln Stephens, another is available here*economic hit man) would posit that the oligarchs are victims of the system itself. They must subordinate their humanity to the institutional mandate of growth and profit maximization, because that it how the system operates. In any given conflict between decency, human welfare, or the biosphere, on one hand, and institutional goals of growth and profits on the other hand, they must opt for the later. If they don’t, they would lose their jobs, and the social status and power that come with it, knowing full-well that someone else will eagerly step in their shoes and eagerly subordinate the common good to the short-term interests of the corporation.
A third possibility comes from clinical psychology. You are far more likely to get to the top of any huge organization, so this line of thinking goes, if you are ruthless, conscience-less, and inherently irresponsible. In other worst, to get to the top, you must be a psychopath. Moreover, psychopaths are more attracted to power than the rest of us. Some lower-level psychopaths, so this hypothesis goes, sit in jail or are on the fringes of society. Others, however, are shrewder, and back-stab their way up the social ladder. This hypothesis would beautifully explain the needless wars, the corruption in high places, the needless hunger and poverty that afflict a significant portion of our species—and the owners’ self-destructive attitude towards the biosphere.
Martha Stout (Stout, Martha: The Sociopath Next Door, 2005, cited in <Andrew M. Lobaczewski,
P o l i t i c a l P o n e r o l o g y: A science on the nature of evil adjusted for political purposes> free download available here: https://rs626tl3.rapidshare.com/#!download|626tl2|92281714|Andrew_M._Lobaczewski__Laura_Knight-Jadczyk__-_Political_Ponerology.pdf|4399|R~882FD727DA9461A55664717416BB86AF):
Imagine - if you can - not having a conscience, none at all,
no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting
sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends,
or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame,
not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of
selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken.
And pretend that the concept of responsibility is unknown
to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question,
like gullible fools.
Now add to this strange fantasy the ability to conceal from
other people that your psychological makeup is radically different
from theirs. Since everyone simply assumes that conscience
is universal among human beings, hiding the fact that
you are conscience-free is nearly effortless.
You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or
shame, and you are never confronted by others for your coldbloodedness.
The ice water in your veins is so bizarre, so
completely outside of their personal experience, that they seldom
even guess at your condition.
In other words, you are completely free of internal restraints,
and your unhampered liberty to do just as you please,
with no pangs of conscience, is conveniently invisible to the
You can do anything at all, and still your strange advantage
over the majority of people, who are kept in line by their
consciences will most likely remain undiscovered.
How will you live your life?
. . .
Provided you are not forcibly stopped, you can do anything
If you are born at the right time, with some access to family
fortune, and you have a special talent for whipping up
other people's hatred and sense of deprivation, you can arrange
to kill large numbers of unsuspecting people. With enough
money, you can accomplish this from far away, and you can
sit back safely and watch in satisfaction. [...]
Crazy and frightening - and real, in about 4 percent of the
The high incidence of sociopathy in human society has a
profound effect on the rest of us who must live on this planet,
too, even those of us who have not been clinically traumatized.
The individuals who constitute this 4 percent drain our
relationships, our bank accounts, our accomplishments, our
self-esteem, our very peace on earth.
. . . .
Those who have no conscience at all are a group unto
themselves, whether they be homicidal tyrants or merely ruthless
The presence or absence of conscience is a deep human
division, arguably more significant than intelligence, race, or
What differentiates a sociopath who lives off the labors of
others from one who occasionally robs convenience stores, or
from one who is a contemporary robber baron - or what makes
the difference betwen an ordinary bully and a sociopathic
murderer - is nothing more than social status, drive, intellect,
blood lust, or simple opportunity.
What distinguishes all of these people from the rest of us is
an utterly empty hole in the psyche, where there should be the
most evolved of all humanizing functions.
It could be that a combination of all three factors, and some others, are at work here. Again, these speculations are not definitive, and are only intended to show that our rulers’ heartless and self-destructive behavior are not as bizarre as might appear on first sight.
Roots of Irrationality and Heartlessness
The next part of our jigsaw puzzle is not as hard as the last, but requires a great deal of study and contemplation. The question we face is this: Don’t we have elections in the USA, UK, Japan, or Mexico? Don’t these countries call themselves democracies, and arent’ they subject to the collective will of the people? .
I shall then trace our species’ irrational and heartless conduct to its roots, relying on relevant insights from such diverse disciplines as biology, astronomy, political science, economics, psychology, and literature.
I have addressed a part of this question in great detail elsewhere (Lives in the Balance, Chapter 9, online: http://www.is.wayne.edu/mnissani/pagepub/CH9.html ), and most of the needed references can be found there. Here I’ll briefly touch upon the main components of this situation:
Almost all conventional sources of information—schools, media, universities, publishing houses, TV, radio—belong to the oligarchs, or are controlled by them. The best book ever written on the subject is Upton Sinclair’s <the Brass Check> (1919). Updates include: <Media Monopoly,> Inventing Reality, Cohen’s book. The same monopoly situation applies to book publishing and schools, and this control goes back a very long way:
Thomas Jeferson. I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens, who, reading newspapers, live and in the belief that they have known something of what has been passing in the world in their time.
There is nothing new in this. In 1919, Upton Sinclair (125) said:
Our newspapers do not represent public interests, but private interests; they do not represent humanity, but property; they value a man, not because he is great, or good, or wise, or useful, but because he is wealthy, or of service to vested wealth.
Elsewhere (1919, 39) he recounts:
I was determined to get something done about the Condemned Meat Industry. I was determined to get something done about the atrocious conditions under which men, women and children were working the Chicago stockyards. In my efforts to get something done, I was like an animal in a cage. The bars of this cage were newspapers, which stood between me and the public; and inside the cage I roamed up and down, testing one bar after another, and finding them impossible to break.
Here is another chilling example from that period. The speaker is John Swinton, editor of the New York Tribune. He is answering, at a banquet of his fellow-editors, the toast: "An Independent Press:"
The business of the New York journalist is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of Mammon, and to sell his race and his country for his daily bread. You know this and I know it, and what folly is this to be toasting an "Independent Press." We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping-jacks; they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes (Sinclair 1919, 400).
Ben Bagdikian (1987, xvi) put it thus:
Our picture of reality does not burst upon us in one splendid revelation. It accumulates day by day and year by year in mostly unspectacular fragments from the world scene, produced mainly by the mass media. Our view of the real world is dynamic, cumulative, and self-correcting as long as there is a pattern of evenhandedness in deciding which fragments are important. But when one important category of the fragments is filtered out, or included only vaguely, our view of the social-political world is deficient.
Thomas Jefferson, 1807
Bagdikian’s eloquent summary (1987, 169-173) of one such study will have to do:
If there was ever any question that . . . in the media . . . advertising influences news and other information given to the public, tobacco makes it unmistakably clear. The tobacco industry since 1954 has spent more than $9 billion on advertising, most of it in newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and television have effectively censored news and entertainment to obscure the link between tobacco and death. During that period more than eight million Americans have died from tobacco-linked disease.
In 1919 Upton Sinclair (p. 9) sizzled: "The social body to which we belong is at this moment passing through one of the greatest crises of its history . . . What if the nerves upon which we depend for knowledge of this social body should give us false reports of its condition?"
Studies with a specific coverage of the environment include “Media Coverage of the Greenhouse Effect (Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 21: 27-43 (1999).
Media Coverage of the Greenhouse Effect
*online:. http://www.is.wayne.edu/MNISSANI/MEDIA/GHMEDIA.HTM ) this paper examines media coverage of the greenhouse effect. It does so by comparing two pictures. The first picture emerges from reading all 100 greenhouse-related articles published over a five-month period (May-September 1997) in The Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Washington Post. The second picture emerges from the mainstream scientific literature. This comparison shows that media coverage of environmental issues suffers from both shallowness and pro-corporate bias.
Shallowness: The media consumer
“is presented with an endless parade of the views and speeches of Presidents and CEOs, Senators and Industrialists, independent scientists and captive scientists; with scientific news about one or another aspect of the greenhouse effect; with national and international negotiations. Yet throughout this barrage there is the shared, tacit assumption that the reader has already the background information to fit these disconnected fragments into a larger, meaningful context. But that larger context, that "enough information" is never given. It follows that environmental experts can derive some useful information from skimming newspapers but that the rest of us can learn more about environmental politics from midday naps than from a lifetime of reading newspapers, watching television, or listening to radio.3
When it comes to climate change, the media is certainly eager to cite the so-called skeptics, giving the views of this small minority far more prominence than it deserves (compare this treatment to the one accorded to the treatment of either scientific minorities in the media, e.g., Peter Duesberg on AIDS). But that is not, perhaps their worst crime.
In a 1996 review of global warming I wrote (The Greenhouse Effect: An Interdisciplinary Perspective
Publication Source: The greenhouse effect: an interdisciplinary perspective. Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 17: 459-489 (1996).
An even worse specter cannot be altogether ruled out. As the Earth heats up, more water would turn into vapor, and vapor is a greenhouse gas. Stored CO2might likewise escape from ocean rocks and shells, and stored methane might escape from vast permafrost regions (Cherif & Adams, 1994, p. 30). Beyond a certain point, the process may get out of control. Venus tells us how far such a runaway process can go+hellish temperatures, enormous surface pressures, and a distorted landscape:2
Until recently, we have been lucky. Earth has just as much carbon as Venus, but most of it is still locked away harmlessly in rocks. . . . Is it possible that we will someday destroy Earth's good health and turn our home into a runaway greenhouse? Will the human volcano heat Planet Earth until all the seas go dry and lead melts in the sunlight? Are we already on the downhill path to Venus? We simply do not know enough yet about Venus, or even about Earth, to be sure of the answer. But judging by our neighboring world, we are playing with fire (Weiner, 1986, p. 174).
But can humanity really have such an appreciable impact on something as colossal as its home planet? The answer is still: nobody knows. To show that human-caused global warming here on Earth is conceivable (but not that it is probable or certain), we need to examine a scientific proposal for transforming another world.
In brief outline, this proposal calls for the construction of a nuclear power plant on Mars. The energy thus produced would be harnessed to mine raw materials and convert them to CFCs. The CFCs would then be released into the Martian environment, where they might trap solar heat and raise temperatures by about 7¦F. From that point on, a runaway global warming may take over. The elevated temperatures might vaporize some of Mars' vast stores of frozen CO2 (dry ice), which in turn would further warm up the planet, releasing more CO2, warming Mars still more, and so on, until all the frozen CO2 is vaporized and Mars is 126¦F warmer than it is now (Chandler, 1994). Now, if serious scientists believe that humans could conceivably raise Martian temperatures by 126¦F, it is hard to see why a similar runaway greenhouse process--albeit unintentional--could not in principle overtake Earth.
This too is a minority scientific view, but, unlike the fossil-industry-friendly views of climate skeptics (who might be honest, and might even turn out to be correct), it receives no mention in the corporate media, despite its incendiary implications>
That is why people routinely vote against their conviction and interests. We are already part way in Huxley’s Brave New World (as he himself noted, (* years ago, in the must read sequel: Brave New World Revisited).
That is why too we are gradually drifting towards unfulfilling materialism and consumerism and meaningless work, and why selfishness, cynicism, apathy to the fate of all living forms are on the rise. Through their near-total control of the majority’s information sources, they have made us forget the lessons of anthropology: that for most of human history, the prevailing norm was rough equality in material possession, plenty of leisure, (see Iroquois, Chiefs articles) , and that the key to happiness may well lie in giving and cooperation and not (as the international bankers would have us believe, in robbing and dispossession. (See Gustafsson
If I’m right, the personal
implications for all of us are far-reaching.
We ought to unplug our TV
and radios (curbside solution), subject all books and textbooks to a
truthfulness and origin screens, and to paraphrase David Hume, commit
all the major newspapers of this fair
city and all other cities, to the flames: fortheyt
can contain nothing but sophistry and
illusion. Most people knows that they
would be better off, in the long run, assimilating a bit more arsenic than TV,
and certainly protecting children from such trash. It is a sad commentary on
the human condition that we cannot, once and for all, let go of such
trash. Arthur C. Clarke might be right
People enjoy being brainwashed, if you set about it the right way.--Arthur C. Clarke (I Remember Babylon, 1960) ...
In the USA and many other countries, bribery is institutionalized, and goes by the name of campaign financing. Politicians (and indirectly, judges) are bought and sold like Styrofoam cups, to the highest bidder—and no one seems to care. Politicians are not beholden to the public, but to bankers and corporations, and that is why, in the competition between, say, the interests of a single corporation like Monsanto, and the human interest, the public interest wins every single time (for details and references, see http://www.is.wayne.edu/mnissani/pagepub/CH9.html, Brass-tacks ecology).
Again, I have covered this in great detail elsewhere (online: http://www.is.wayne.edu/mnissani/pagepub/CH9.html), so would only touch upon it briefly. At least with the present education system, we’re are manifestly highly indoctrinable, too easily swayed by emotions, too weak-minded, too lacking in critical thinking skills.
One example; It is so patently ludicrous, our present system of bribery, yet the public seems unable to put two and two together and demand reform. Another example: It is manifestly obvious that the choice the public has during elections between the likes of Obama and McCain, or Cameron and * is no choice at all. Either candidate has been pre-approved, and neither will, ever serve the public interest. Yet, some 50% of the people—and often the better educated ones—participate in the charade, and actually waste their time voting (President Wilson: . Wilson quote:
Yes, we could have education for freedom, and yes, as we shall see below, genuine democracy and the people are our very best hope. And yes, despite the cradle to grave propaganda, the majority often is on the side of sustainability and peace and justice. But we must realize that we are vulnerable, that the road to a better world begins with self-improvement.
One could go on, but let me give you one more example of our vulnerability. Rationality requires that we let go of any given conviction when there is overwhelming evidence against it, but it’s obvious that most of us finds this shift excruciatingly difficult, if not impossible. The picture portrayed in this paper has been laboriously acquired over many years, necessitating many agonizing reversals of views, but how many people can actually give it a fair try?
Experimental psychology shows that indeed it is almost impossible to let go of convictions, regardless of how strong the evidence against them is. (Conc;)
The Machiavellian system I’ve described so far is fantastically resilient, but it needs a few refinements to survive in the long term. Occasionally, in ancient Rome, or Greece, or 21st century UK, a champion of the people and the environment gains power and poses a threat to the very foundations of the system itself. That can be a Dr. Kelly in England, courageously stating truth to power. It can be Princess Diana, who not only undermines the interests of a very powerful family, but also the interests of a very powerful industry. It can be a labor leader, like Walter Reuther (*), or an immensely popular peace and social justice activist, like Martin Luther King (Pfeffer’s book; see .
The most serious threat to the system is at the heart of the empire itself--the White House. It’s indeed a peculiarity of the American system, that a president can defy the men in the shadow, and perhaps undermine their power. If the bankers so wish, a Japanese or an Australian prime minister can be peacefully remove from office, with no bloodshed, as recent events in both countries forcibly show. But the American Presidency poses a more serious problem, for it can be used by an intelligent, conscientious, and determined man to clean up the system. The center of power of Anglo-American Empire are private banks, who, since 1913, have consolidated and institutionalized that power through the privately, and to a great extent, foreign-owned Federal Reserve System (Web of Debt, Creature). Forget about your textbooks, and the fictions about three branches of government and a free press. In reality, the handful of bankers who control the Federal Reserve can create money out of thin air, use that money to bribe or kill anyone who stands in their way, and hence, are by far more powerful than the three branches and press combined.. The last American president to have successfully challenged this hegemony of the big banks was Andrew Jackson. They have tried to kill him, but failed. This was the last time, as is to be expected, that the national debt has been paid. After him, all other presidents (and many a congressman) who dared defy the bankers left the White House in a coffin.
Kennedy (in fiction, see Taylor Caldwell, Garrison, film JFK)
Can you detect a pattern here? Do we really need absolute proof to suspect that assassinations are a most useful tool in maintaining the integrity of our corrupt system?
Well, we have better evidence when it comes to foreign leaders of countries like Panama, Ecuador (Perkins), or Chile. We also know that the American government, nowadays, is empowered to torture and assassinate its enemies, foreign or domestic. Why should it surprise us that the same tactics would be used against American presidents? How else could you explain the fact that presidents who take up the bankers and the military industrial complex tend to die in office and be replaced by a more pliable individual? (see confessions of a consp), while those who do the bankers’ bidding survive and thrive?
If all this sounds to you conspiratorial, it surely is (see Confessions of Conspiracy Theorist, Paul Craig).
With time, the powers that be refine their arsenal in a variety of ways. Sometimes they may have a strong preference to one of their pre-selected candidates. Sometimes events might run counter to the interests of the men of the shadow. Elections have been always been rigged in some places, and that practice had to be imported and refined in the empire and in many other democracies (sic). This refinement, though not absolutely necessary, gives the system another safety valve, just in case.
Two examples: A detailed study of an establishment candidate, but worrisomely concerned about the environment (Al Gore), and a man who suffered no such flaw, was rigged (palest), as was, probably, the succeeding elections.
There is a vast gap between what a politician or party promises before the elections, and what they do after the elections. For one example, see (Obama). For million other examples, see Economic Hit Man, Klein. In all but a few cases, there is almost nothing the public can do about such broken promises, thus again giving the lie to most people’s notion of democracy (the only solution, I’ll argue below), is real (or direct) democracy.
The road to political literacy is set with the deliberate obstacles, of which one of the most formidable is cooption. Let me give you an example from the United States. Let us say that you were raised in a republican, Ayn Rand friendly household, but you gradually begin to suspect that humanity is needlessly fouling its nest and needlessly condemning millions of children to hunger, suffering, and death. But, you tell yourself: I can fix this problem by voting for the Democratic Party.” It takes you a few years to realize that both parties serve the interests, and are supported by, the creators of this evil and self-destructive system. You now put your faith in organizations like the Sierra Club (see for instance, War with the Greens), or AARP, and you read such “anti-establishment” magazines as The Nation and Counterpunch. It takes you a few more years to figure out that they have been coopted too and that ceased, long ago, to raise questions about the system itself. In the absence of safeguards, in a land where money is king, psychopaths and corruptible people often get to the top. If you are lucky, by the time you begin to figure out what is really going on, and what must be done, many years have been lost. If you are not so lucky—and this applies to the vast majority of intellectuals and people reading these lines—you get forever stuck in one of the earlier limbo states.
How can humanity maximize its long-term chances of living harmoniously within nature? A closer look at classical Ancient Athens may provide one answer
To begin with, westerners have been indoctrinated to believe that they live in genuine democracy. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Democracy means, literally, rule of the people, or people power. In the ancient city states of Greece, there was an ongoing conflict between a minority of rich aristocrats (the oligarchs), who relied on their wealth, on their better educational opportunities, on the service of foreign mercenaries, and on a continual reign of terror to secure their rule. States where the oligarchs had customarily the upper hand, Such states have left us almost no cultural legacy. The amazing legacy of beauty, athletics, freedom, philosophies, logic, mathematics, history, science, holistic thinking and lifestyles, drama, sculpture, civic engagement, which ancient Greece often bring to the contemporary mind are, for the most part, the legacy of Greek democracies. The Spartans, despite their fame, have left us nothing except chronicles of martial valor, and a stale, anti-humantiarian, self-destructive constitution.
And indeed there is an intimate link between cultural output and genuine civilization. In other words, it is not merely a coincidence that civilization reached it peak in entire recorded human history precisely among the free Greeks. Herodotus already clearly perceived the causal connection between freedom and excellence (:http://www.archive.org/stream/historryofherodo030334mbp/historryofherodo030334mbp_djvu.txt
Thus did the Athenians increase in
strength. And it is plain enough, not from this
instance only, but from many everywhere, that
freedom is an excellent thing; since even the
Athenians, who, while they continued under
the rule of tyrants, were not a whit more vali-
ant than any of their neighbours, no sooner
shook off the yoke than they became decidedly
the first of all. These things show that, while
undergoing oppression, they let themselves be
beaten, since then they worked for a master;
but so soon as they got their freedom, each
man was eager to do the best he could for him-
self. So fared it now with the Athenians.
See also Popper <>
America, Britain, France—even better-ruled Norway and Iceland—might have free elections, but they are not democracies. The USA, for instance, is a republic, modeled somewhat loosely on the Roman Republic (which bequeathed the cultural world almost nothing original), not after Athenian democracy. Like the Aristocratic Plato (see the Open Society and Its Enemies), the prevailing faction among the American revolutionaries was averse to people power, to democracy, and chose instead a model where the people elect their representatives—who often, as we see every day now, pursue policies to which the vast majority of the citizens are opposed. These elected leaders, once in office, do whatever they oligarchic sponsors direct them to do, often in outright defiance of the people wishes. Thus, for instance, the majority of Americans did not want their country to go to war in 1917, they did not want it to colonize Iraq, and they want far more sustainable and equitable policies at home. But, in a republic, their wishes can be ignored. As a result, the world—and its constituents so-called democracies—is daily becoming less livable, just, and peaceful.
The political institutions of Athens made her greatness possible, and made it the last military bastion hope of freedom and civilization when the dictatorial Macedonian juggernaut swept the world. How did the Athenians do it? What, in other words, is the real meaning of democracy? What has the world lost, by not following the Athenian model of self-governance?
. Two key features of Athens’ political institutions were direct democracy (citizens voting on major policy issues), and abundant silver and copper money issued by the state (as opposed to the contemporary prevailing, inherently unsustainable, model of privately-owned, for-profit, central banks employing fractional reserve banking, fiat currencies, destructive manipulations of the money supply, and money as debt). Besides these two key aspects, and despite many abhorrent features of the Athenian polity, (including slavery, oppression of women, imperial ambitions, corruption, and onerous naturalization laws), Athens could teach us many other lessons, e.g., economic self-sufficiency of the average household, a genuine free enterprise system (largely absent in modern so-called capitalist societies), a less materialistic world view, a small state, minimal taxation, involvement of the majority in civic affairs, and nominating political leaders by lottery (thus minimizing the role of psychopaths in directing human affairs).
Let me give you a couple of other examples of Athenian politics. Athenians lawmakers understood human weaknesses, and they knew from bitter experience how bribery can destroy the justice system. Obviously, it is easier to bribe, and deform a passion for justice in, a judge than a jury, and hence, all trials were by jury of one’s peers alone. There was no presiding judge telling people (as they do in the US) that their task is to serve an abstract law, not simple justice. This is again an embodiment of the democratic ideal: The people, not professional experts, were deemed most qualified to decide judicial cases. But juries could be bribed too; to circumvent that problem, juries in important cases were randomly selected from the entire citizen body and would number 500 or more (roughly 2.5% or more of the total number of citizens). Often the caseload was too heavy, and so the jury for each particular trial was reduced to 50. Now, a rich man might try to bribe all fifty, so the legal system placed a safeguard against that eventuality: The decision which 50 jurors of the 500 hundred would be assigned to any given case was made by lottery, just before the trial began.
Another great feature of Athenian democracy involved ostracism. Athenian democrats well knew that their worst enemies were the oligarchs within their walls. In some extreme cases, these traitors were brought to trial. But the Athenians’ usual manner was far more civilized. People who were deemed a threat to the democracy, or whose presence was otherwise harmed the state, were selected by an anonymous vote of the assembly, and ordered to leave the city for ten years. They retained their citizenship, possessions, and everything else, but were just required to remain in exile. By law, only one person could be ostracized in any given year. As a matter of historical record, though, ostracism was rarely applied, again providing strong evidence of the political maturity and basic decency of a free people.
If all this surprises you, you are not alone:
bring about the downfall of Athens.
The history of the Peloponnesian war and the fall of Athens is
still often told, under the influence of Thucydides' authority, in
such a way that the defeat of Athens appears as the ultimate
proof of the dangerous weaknesses of the democratic system. But
this view is merely a tendentious distortion, and the well-known
facts tell a very different story. The main responsibility for the
lost war rests with the treacherous oligarchs who continuously
conspired with Sparta. . . . The fall of Athens, and
the destruction of the walls, are often presented as the final
results of the great war which had started in 431 B.C. But in
this presentation lies the main distortion, for the democrats fought
on. At first only seventy strong, they prepared under the leadership
of Thrasybulus and Anytus the liberation of Athens, where
Critias was meanwhile killing scores of citizens ; for during the
eight months of his reign of terror the death-role contained
nearly a greater number of Athenians than the Peloponnesians
had killed during the last ten years of war ' 48
. But after eight
months (in 403 B.C.) Critias and the Spartan garrison were
attacked and defeated by the democracies who established themselves
in the Piraeus, and both of Plato's uncles lost their lives
in the battle. Their oligarchic followers continued for a time
the reign of terror in the city of Athens itself, but their forces
were in a state of confusion and dissolution. Having proved
themselves incapable of ruling, they were ultimately abandoned
by their Spartan protectors, who concluded a treaty with the
democrats. The peace re-established the democracy in Athens.
Thus the democratic form of government had proved its
superior strength under the most severe trials, arid even its enemies
began to think it invincible.
The enemies of direct democracy often confuse people power with mob rule. In fact, nothing can be farther from the rule. Consider for instance, a scholarly study of the great reconciliation which took place between the winning democrats and their vanquished, murderous, oligarchs:
The first well-documented of a self-conscious transitional justice policy, is provided by “the classical Athenians’ response to atrocities committed during the reign of the Thirty Tyrants - as a case study that can offer insight into the design of modern transitional justice institutions. The Athenians carefully balanced retribution and forgiveness . . . : remembering and forgetting. This case study of Athens’ successful reconciliation offers new insight into contemporary transitional justice debates. The Athenian experience suggests that the current focus on uncovering the truth may be misguided. The Athenian case also counsels that providing an avenue for individual victims to pursue local grievances can help minimize the impunity gap created by the inevitably selective nature of transitional justice.”
The Athenians sometimes did fall into the trap of might is right type of politics, but even at their worst momen they were capable of compasión, something that is never seen in contemporary so-called democracies. Consider this touching real story:
“Immediately after the invasion of the Peloponnesians all Lesbos, except Methymna, revolted from the Athenians. . . . However, the Athenians, distressed by the plague, and by the war that had recently broken out and was now raging, thought it a serious matter to add Lesbos with its fleet and untouched resources to the list of their enemies; and at first would not believe the charge, giving too much weight to their wish that it might not be true. But when an embassy which they sent had failed to persuade the Mitylenians to give up the union and preparations complained of, they became alarmed, and resolved to strike the first blow.” After a prolonged siege, the Athenians prevailed, and, at first, the assembly sent a trireme with the order to execut all the men of rebellious island, and to enslave the women and children. The following day the assembly reconvened, and narrowly voted to overturn the first vote, and spare the lives of most Lesbians: “Another galley was at once sent off in haste, for fear that the first might reach Lesbos in the interval, and the city be found destroyed; the first ship having about a day and a night's start. Wine and barley-cakes were provided for the vessel by the Mitylenian ambassadors, and great promises made if they arrived in time; which caused the men to use such diligence upon the voyage that they took their meals of barley-cakes kneaded with oil and wine as they rowed, and only slept by turns while the others were at the oar. Luckily they met with no contrary wind, and the first ship making no haste upon so horrid an errand, while the second pressed on in the manner described, the first arrived so little before them, that Paches had only just had time to read the decree, and to prepare to execute the sentence, when the second put into port and prevented the massacre. The danger of Mitylene had indeed been great.”
Ask yourself: Has the “democratic” United States or England ever behaved in such a fashion. And, if not, is it time we reclaim the political system capable of such wartime wisdom and compassion as our own?
“Why Did America’s Founding Fathers Followed the Example of Rome, and not of Athens?
Some of the founders were genuine democrats, but they were overruled, and collectivelly they knowingly rejected the democratic option. They rationalized this by asserting, with Plato, that democracy is tantamount to mob rule. This is a patent misreprestation of history, as we have just conclusively shown. This leaves us with a less complementary explanation: The majority of America’s wealthy founding fathers chose a republic to protect their own privileged position. If that is the case, they were right: In a genuine democracy, the extreme inequalities that existed in 18th century America (or in America today) could not survive for long.
It is no accident, in the year 2001, that, when given a choice, the Italian people rejected nuclear power, despite the massive propaganda by the state idolizing nuclear power. It is no accident that the only country with any chance of escaping serfdom and an engineered takeover by the International Monetary Fund in the contemporary world, Iceleand, was able to do that through a referendum. What worked so well for the Ancient Athenians, is obviously working as well in the contemporary world. In my view, the only hope we have for sustainability, freedom, justice, economic security, spirituality is a rapid transition to a direct democracy. We have tried everything else, and only this—the people deciding directly everything important—will avert catastrophe.
Genuine democracy has been much maligned, for it posed a direct challenge to oligarchic rule, to which it was unmistakably superior. The Macedonian and Romans, to their credit, recognized its fruits--the cultural superiority of Greece--and adopted Greek culture on their own. The tradition of free thought lingered on for a few centuries, despite political oppression, but withered gradually. The Church, and all major organized religions, later, recognized the challenge it posed, and did everything they could to malign democracy and its achievements. That pattern is followed to this very day, except that many of us now are told that we live in a democracy, a patently false claim. That is why the writings of champions of the open society like Antithenes and Democritus have vanished from the record, and that is why the writings of anti-democrats like Plato, Plutarch, and Xenophon have been preserved. We are all the poorer for it. But it is not yet too late to honor the memories of the really great Greek lovers of freedom—by restoring direct democracy to every corner of our globe.
This move towards genuine democracy--or any other move that is likely to put humanity on a sustainable path—confronts us with a seemingly-insurmountable challenge: How can we overcome the dogged resistance to such a framework from the handful of powerful bankers and their allies in the corporate- political-military-academic-media complex who are manifestly indifferent to the ongoing, needless, and potentially suicidal assault on the physical and biological foundations of life itself?
I have already alluded to some of the problems we face, and argued that nowadays, in the English-speaking world, and perhaps almost in the entire world, greed and power hunger always have precedence over the interests of the biosphere, life, and humanity.
ABC of Economic Hit man, including 3 stages and Iran, Guatemala, Ecuador, Panama, Iraq:
Right down to the form of government we have, which is a Republic based upon Rome rather than a Democracy based upon Athens, this is not a modern invention. A Republic is where we elect representatives to go run government. In a Democracy, every citizen has the right to propose laws and sits in judgment over the affairs of the state. Rome had its Senate as does Washington.
Bagdikian, B. H. 1987. The Media Monopoly. Boston: Beacon, second edition.
Broecker, W. S. 1994. Is earth climate posed to jump again? Geotimes, 39 (11), 16-18.
Diamond, J. 1992. The Third Chimpanzee. New York: HarperCollins.
Franklin, B. Cited in: Rosenfeld, R. N. 1997. American Aurora, New York: San Martin, p. xiii.
Jefferson, T. cited in: Schmuhl, R. 1992. Statecraft and Stagecraft (2nd edition). Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, p. 69.
Lovins, A. and Lovins, L. H. 1991. Least-cost climatic stabilization. Annual Review of Energy and the Environment, 16, 433-531.
Meadows, D. H. 1991. Changing the world through the informationsphere. ed. C.L. LaMay and E.E Dennis, Media and the Environment. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Miller, G. T., Jr. 1998. Living in the Environment. New York: Wadsworth.
Nissani, M. 1992. Lives in the balance. Carson City: Dowser.
——-. 1996. "The greenhouse effect: an interdisciplinary perspective," Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 17: 459-489.
——-. 1997a. Ten cheers for interdisciplinarity. Social Science Journal 34 (#2): 201-216.
——-. 1997b. "The greenhouse effect." In Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Environmental Issues. ed. T. Goldfarb. Guilford, CT: Dushkin (7th edition).
——-. 1997c. Brass-tacks ecology. The Trumpeter, 14 (#3): 143-148.
Parenti, M. 1996. Dirty Truths. San Francisco: City Lights Books.
Sinclair, U. 1919. The Brass Check. New York: Published by the author.
Streitmatter, R. 1997. Mightier than the Sword. Boulder: Westview.
United States Department of Energy. 1997. Scenarios of U.S. Carbon Reductions: Potential Impacts of Energy-Efficiency and Low-Carbon Technologies by 2010 and Beyond.
United States National Academy of Sciences. 1992. Policy Implications of Greenhouse Warming. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Weiner, J. 1986. Planet Earth. Toronto: Bantam Books.
Woodwell, G. M. 1995. Biotic feedbacks from the warming of the earth. In Biotic Feedbacks in the Global Climatic System. ed. G. M. Woodwell and F. T. Mackenzie, 3-21. New York: Oxford University Press.
Appendix 1: Sustainable Technologies
Owing to the complexities of Earth's biosphere and climate, all predictions are shrouded in doubt. It could be that, as I revise these words, our planet's temperatures are imperceptibly rising. For argument's sake, let us arbitrarily say that there is a 1 in 2 chance that this is occurring. If this warming continues, in a few decades it may lead to adverse (say, 1 in 10), beneficial (say, 1 in 10), or neutral (say, 8 in 10) consequences for the quality of life on this planet. Finally, there is the specter of consequent extinction of life on Earth in a few centuries as a result of human-caused, unchecked global warming (say, 1 in 100). Amidst all these uncertainties and arbitrary numbers we can be sure of one thing: the uncertainties will remain. Should we then cross our fingers, allow present trends to continue, and let chance decide our fate?
Given the stakes, some people would argue that we should act to avert the possibility of disaster, regardless of cost. Others might argue that we should act only if the requisite policies do not divert resources from even more urgent tasks. No one, however, would openly argue that we should do nothing if the requisite policies not only avert the greenhouse threat, but if they also have many other beneficial environmental, public health, and aesthetic consequencesand if they can save our species billions of dollars every year. If such policies were shown to exist, the greenhouse debate would, in principle, come to an end. Who could oppose beneficial and remunerative policies? Uncannily enough, although such policies have been readily available for decades, they are not being followed!
As we have seen, CFCs contribute to as much as 24% of the expected warming. Because they are also the chief culprit in the ozone layer tragedy, they will be soon partially banned. Over the next century, their concentrations in both the lower and upper atmosphere will decline.3 Tardy or not, the CFC ban would slow down the suspected warming trend.
The needed additional steps have been championed for decades by many writers. Among the most indefatigable, articulate, and insightful advocates of this sustainable-earth path is Amory Lovins. Here is a typical refrain:
Global warming is not a natural result of normal, optimal economic activity. Rather, it is an artifact of the economically inefficient use of resources, especially energy. Advanced technologies for resource efficiency, and proven ways to implement them, can now support present or greatly expanded worldwide economic activity while stabilizing global climate+and saving money. New resource-saving techniques+chiefly for energy, farming, and forestry+generally work better and cost less than present methods that destabilize the earth's climate (Lovins & Lovins, 1991, p. 433).
Such steps, sustainable-earth advocates say, could cut emissions of CO2 by more than 60%, of methane, by 17%, and of nitrous oxide by 75%. Such claims are usually dismissed by politicians and journalists, by scientists and other academics who believe that the greenhouse threat is a chimera requiring no action whatsoever, by reputable economists who believe that it might cost as much as 4 trillion dollars to avert the greenhouse danger (Schneider, 1990, p. 188)4and also by many informed science writers who are committed to removing the greenhouse threat. Here is one example out of dozens:
Despite the uncertainties, even many scientists who understand that the global warming theory has not been proved believe that humans around the world should act to reduce those activities that contribute to accelerating the greenhouse effect. This is, after all, unexplored climatic territory, and by the time the theory is proved, it may be too late to act. Expensive as actions may be, the costs of not taking them may be even greater in the long run (Franck & Brownstone, 1992, pp. 145-6; italics added).
Such widespread beliefs seem to make a mockery of Lovins' claims that increased energy efficiency can solve the greenhouse problem and save money. Are his claims absurd? My answer to this is simple: these claims are not absurd, but entirely correct.
To begin with, assertions of combined savings and safety are supported by many other researchers.5 Also, the worst greenhouse offender+the United States+does not use energy as efficiently as some other equally prosperous countries. By catching up with existing Swedish standards, for instance, the United States could vastly reduce greenhouse emissions, save trillions, and begin to heal its citizens and trees, fields and streams, water and air.
A similar point concerns history. Compared to real energy expenditures in 1973, and thanks to conservation measures implemented since then, energy conservation is already saving the United States at least $100 billion a year.6 Twenty years ago many economists opposed energy conservation for 1001 reasons.7 They have thus managed to slow down this historical process, but common sense, and the logic of a mixed economy, tilted the balance and proved them wrong.
Thus, the sustainable-path position boils down to nothing more outlandish than a plea to all nations to accelerate this salutary historical trend, in part by following the proven examples of prosperous, energy-efficient, countries like Sweden and Japan.
The sustainable-earth package is comprised of numerous measures. To be sure, this package is neither complete nor flawless. But here we are only concerned with the large picture, and can let independent experts and experience settle the rest. So we can safely set aside such questions as: Would sustainable-earth measures save $100 or $200 billion a year? Would they reduce carbon emissions by 50% or 70%? Would they cut future additions to the acid rain problem by 90% or 98.9%? To make our case, we need only show that, taken together, such policies can save money, avert global warming, and help heal our planet. To achieve this limited end, we only need recount a few typical steps:
1. "Removing a 75-watt incandescent lamp [the familiar household light bulb] and screwing into the same socket a 15-watt compact fluorescent lamp will provide the same amount of light for 13 times as long, yet save enough coal-fired electricity over its lifetime to keep about a ton of CO2 out of the air (plus 8 kg of [polluting and acid rain-causing] sulfur oxides and various other pollutants). . . .Yet far from costing extra, [in the long run each lamp] . . . saves tens of dollars more than it costs" (Lovins & Lovins, 1991, pp. 437-8; see also National Academy of Sciences, 1994, pp. 217).
2. A 1989 study by the U.S. Department of Energy describes "15 proven, readily available, improvements in car design. These, plus two more equally straightforward improvements," would not involve any changes in car size, safety standards, or acceleration, yet they could reduce fuel consumption by 35%. And this is a mere drop in the bucket. Already available prototypes such as the Toyota AXV (89 mpg city; 110 mpg highway), prove that cars more than three times as efficient as the world's fleet can be at least "as comfortable, peppy, safe, and low in emissions as today's typical" new car (Lovins & Lovins, 1991, p. 446).
3. According to the National Academy of Sciences, "a consensus is emerging in the engineering, utility, and regulatory communities that, even when past efficiency gains and projected population and economic expansion are considered, an additional, significant reduction can be made in U.S. residential and commercial electricity consumption. This reduction is not expected to sacrifice comfort levels and will cost less+in many cases, substantially less+than the purchase of new sources of power" (1992, p. 204). The savings in both carbon emissions and dollars can be readily accomplished through such simple steps as adding triple pane windows to existing buildings and improving the design of hot water tanks. For the United States alone, such measures would cut total CO2 emissions by some 18%, and would save some $56 billion per year (National Academy of Sciences, 1994, p. 240). By itself, this figure is striking from the economic standpoint, if from no other: every year, the average American household could save hundreds of dollars through this step alone.
4. Recycling paper saves money, energy, trees, pollution, water, landfill space, and methane emissions. Indirectly, such recycling also reduces carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides emissions otherwise incurred in the production and transport of paper (Lovins & Lovins, 1991, p. 474; Miller, 1994, p. 402).
5. Cogeneration entails production of two useful types of energy from a single process. For instance, waste heat from industrial processes can be converted into usable electricity, instead of letting it dissipate through the smokestack. A more familiar example comes from personal transportation+cars need no heaters because they are built to recycle waste heat. We are ready for another astonishing statistic from a 1994 ecology text: American "industries that use enough high-temperature heat or steam and electricity could save energy and money by installing cogeneration units . . . By 2000 cogeneration could produce more electricity than all the U.S. nuclear power plants, and do it much more cheaply" (Miller, 1994, p. 450).
6. Methane losses by the petrochemical and coal industries are "primarily due to technological inefficiency . . . lack of 'good-will' among those responsible. It is well documented that simple and cost-efficient measures could substantially reduce methane emission from these sources. Even if population growth (and spreading industrialization) were to require an increase in fossil fuel exploration, the total methane emission from these sources could decline in absolute terms with better technology and intelligent process design" (Heilig, 1994, p. 131).
7. "According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, retrofitting abandoned small and medium-sized hydroelectric sites, and building new small-scale hydroelectric plants on suitable sites, could supply as much electricity as forty-seven 1,000-megawatt power plants" (Miller, 1994, p. 464).
8. Many efficiency measures entail renewable sources of energy. Consider, for example, solar cells (=photovoltaics), which convert sunlight to electricity without producing any greenhouse gases, and which, as far as we can tell, incur comparatively small environmental costs. By 1977, a task force of the U.S. Federal Energy Administration proposed direct government intervention to speed up the development and commercialization of this benign technology (Commoner, 1979, pp. 35-38), a step that would have, over twenty years, saved the government money, cut pollution, and created a major new industry. Needless to say, governments paid little attention (for the same reason, probably, that Lovins, as far as the world's decision makers are concerned, remains a voice in the wilderness), thereby needlessly slowing down the large-scale use of this benign technology. Nonetheless, the price of solar cells has been steadily going down, and they are expected to become truly competitive in a few years. For instance, solar cells are already used in most hand-held calculators. If the true economic costs of nuclear power are included,8 solar cells already outperform nuclear power plants as net producers of electricity. Governments genuinely concerned with the health of the planet would at long last heed the advice of one of their own task forces and shift a fraction of their coal and nuclear subsidies to this sunnier technology:
Today's solar photovoltaic technology already achieves every [failed] dream of nuclear technology research: the solar resource potential is unlimited, its energy source is fusion (with a self-containing "reactor" located a comfortable 93 million miles away), it is [comparatively] clean, it needs no fuel, it is passively safe, its waste and safety problems are relatively minor, it comes in all sizes from rooftop to utility-scale, and the necessary materials are effectively infinite (sunlight and sand). The only thing left to do is to bring down the cost, which will not be difficult according to informed assessments by the United States Department of Energy (Keepin, 1990, p. 316).
A similar situation applies to many other solar technologies: "Contemporary solar engineers [believe that] solar power is not only possible but eminently practical, not to mention more environmentally friendly. Alas, once again, just as the technology has proven itself from a practical standpoint, public support for further development and implementation is eroding, and solar power could yet again be eclipsed by conventional energy technologies" (Smith, 1995, p. 40). "Solar technology already boasts a century of R&D, requires no toxic fuel and relatively little maintenance, is inexhaustible, and, with adequate financial support, is capable of becoming directly competitive with conventional technologies in many locations. These attributers make solar energy one of the most promising sources for many current and future energy needs. As Frank Shuman declared more than 80 years ago, it is "the most rational source of power" (Smith, 1995, p. 47).
According to two of this century's most distinguished interdisciplinarians, the case for solar and renewable technologies is even more convincing when government policies are taken into account. To begin with, we must bear in mind that while the U.S. government spent "some $40 billion a year in the 1980s" on energy research, 90% of that money went to fossil-fuel and nuclear power and only 4% went to renewable energy. At the same time, the fossil-fuel and nuclear industries lavished "immense fortunes on political lobbying and influence-buying" (Asimov & Pohl, 1991, p. 226). Moreover, these authors believe that, when all concealed costs are taken into account, consumers pay less for some renewable energy sources than they pay for fossil fuels and nuclear energy. The alleged extra cost of some renewable energy sources, they say, "is a fiscal illusion, if not an actual fraud practiced on all of us." (p. 230; see Asimov & Pohl, Chapter 15, for details)
Scoffers at the sustainable-earth position often treat the greenhouse problem in isolation from everything else that ails our planet and species. They forget that while academia can be gainfully fragmented into disciplines, the world cannot: reality is a web, not a collection of parallel lines. We have seen already that the prospective CFC ban would markedly aid both the ozone depletion problem and the greenhouse threat, but this combined effect is a mere peanut in Santa Lovins' famous briefcase. Besides averting the greenhouse and ozone threats, the proposed measures would entail worldwide savings of untold billions of dollars and countless natural resources. They would improve our material quality of life, reduce pollution, cut severe environmental and health impact of coal use (e.g., black lung disease, land subsidence), improve human health, eliminate future acid rain problems (which are currently aging buildings and monuments, damaging forests, and killing fish in thousands of lakes and streams). Furthermore, these measures would diminish urban smog and help clean up our air, water, and food. They would reduce the incidence of tragic and costly floods, storms, and, perhaps, other natural disasters. They may improve the quality of topsoil and farmland, thereby increasing longterm agricultural productivity. They would gradually lead to the elimination of costly and unsafe nuclear power. "In sum, informal estimates (of EPA) . . . suggest that most+perhaps around 90%+of the problems EPA deals with could be displaced, at negative cost, just by energy efficiency and by sustainable farming and forestry. That is a pleasant by-product of abating global warming at a profit" (Lovins & Lovins, 1991, p. 518). Moreover, the sustainable-earth path would considerably slow down the worrisome prospect of massive species extinction. It would raise economic competitiveness (for instance, greater energy efficiencies partially explain low production costs of Japanese cars). And they would reduce dependence on foreign energy supplies.