Change Everything Now

JAMES GUSTAVE “Gus” Speth’s office at Yale reeks of Old World charm, with a high ceiling and dark, wood-paneled walls adorned with souvenirs from his travels in Africa and Asia. Speth, sixty-six, the dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, is a tall, genial man who wears conservative striped ties and speaks in a quiet southern drawl. If America can be said to have a distinguished elder statesman of environmental policy, Speth is it. Before he arrived at Yale, he cofounded the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the most powerful environmental groups in the U.S., then went on to serve as a top environmental policy advisor to President Jimmy Carter. In 1982, he founded the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank, which he headed for a decade. He also served as a senior advisor to President-elect Bill Clinton’s transition team and spent seven years as the top administrator in the Development Programme at the United Nations.

It’s not surprising that Speth would end up in a wood-paneled office at Yale. What is surprising, however, is that he uses his bully pulpit in academia to push for a 1960s-style take-it-to-the-streets revolution. His new book, The Bridge at the Edge of the World (Yale University Press), is nothing less than a call for an uprising that would reinvent modern capitalism and replace it with, well, a postmodern capitalism that values sustainability over growth, and doing good over making a quick buck. Sound idealistic? It is — but that’s part of the book’s appeal. Speth goes beyond finger-wagging to indict consumer capitalism itself for the rape and pillage of the natural world. His proximate concern is global warming and the impact it will have on civilized life as we know it. But unlike, say, Al Gore, Speth is not concerned with details of climate science or policy prescriptions for the near-term. He is after bigger game — the Wal-Martization of America, our slavish devotion to an ever-expanding gross domestic product, the utter failure of what Speth disparagingly calls “modern capitalism” to create a sustainable world. What is needed, Speth believes, is not simply a tax on greenhouse gas emissions, but “a new operating system” for the modern world.

I spoke with Speth at Yale earlier this year.

Jeff Goodell
: In the opening chapter of your new book, you say, quite bluntly, that “something is wrong” in America. What exactly do you mean?

Gus Speth: Well, I think we have to face up to the paradox that while the environmental community has become stronger and more sophisticated over the years, the environment is going downhill so fast that we’re facing a potential calamity down the road. All we have to do to leave a ruined world to children is just keep doing what we’re doing today — the same emissions of pollutants, the same destruction of ecosystems, same toxification of the environment — and we’ll ruin the planet in the latter part of this century.

And yet, we know we’re not just going to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re going to grow phenomenally. At the current rates, the world economy will be twice as big as it is today in seventeen years. That carries the potential for enormous additional destruction. The environmental movement has a lot of wonderful things about it, and it’s accomplished a lot. But it’s not up to this challenge of dealing with this amount of environmental loss and destruction.

The fundamental thing that’s happened is that our efforts to clean up the environment are being overwhelmed by the sheer increase in the size of the economy. And there’s no reason to think that won’t continue. So we have to ask, what is it about our society that puts such an extraordinary premium on growth? Is it justified? Why is that growth so destructive? And what do we do about it?

Capitalism is a growth machine. What it really cares about is earning a profit and reinvesting a large share of that and growing continually. Profits can be enhanced if the companies are not paying for the cost of their environmental destruction — so they fight [paying it] tooth and nail. The companies themselves are now quite huge, quite powerful, quite global, and no longer just the main economic actors in our society. They are the main political actors also.

And so all of these things combine to produce a type of capitalism that really doesn’t care about the environment, and doesn’t really care about people much either. What it really cares about is profits and growth, and the rest is more or less incidental. And until we change that system, my conclusion is that it will continue to be fundamentally destructive.

JG: So our engine of progress has become the engine of our destruction?

GS: Well, it’s certainly the engine of environmental destruction. And what is also becoming apparent is that this so-called engine of progress is also not really improving people’s lives very much either. And here I’m speaking entirely of the advanced, industrial, affluent societies, not the developing world, which does need to grow.

In the West, we’re seeing that people’s own sense of subjective well-being has not been going up with all of this growth that we’ve been experiencing. Per capita income goes up, but happiness doesn’t, satisfaction with life doesn’t. It’s just flatlined, for decades now. And there are certain pathologies that have increased. A sense of loneliness in our society, bipolar disorders, other problems, stress and disintegration of communities.

This should be a time when we really can take this fabulous amount of wealth that we’ve generated and enjoy it, and yet we seem to be caught in a system where it’s either up, up, and away or down, down, and out. And we seem to careen from crisis to crisis — personal crises, national crises, economic crises.

JG: I know lots of people working on clean energy technology in places like Silicon Valley who would argue that the forces of progress need to be accelerated, not slowed down.

GS: Well, I do stress the need to ditch the old technologies that have gotten us into this trouble and bring on as fast as possible new technologies that are designed with the environment in mind. That’s all accurate, I think. And I’m delighted to see the renaissance of environmental concern in the country.

But having said that, I just don’t believe it’s enough. What you’re really describing is what can be thought of as kind of a dematerialization of the economy, of the movement toward every kind of gloriously high-tech economy with just electrons moving around —

JG: A Google economy.

GS: Yes, a Google economy. But there’s still huge impacts, even with all of that, and as these new companies grow in size, those impacts become ever larger. And right now there’s been very little dematerialization of the U.S. economy. It’s gotten more efficient, it creates less pollutant per unit of output in our economy. But still, we’re using a huge amount of stuff and releasing almost all of it back as waste into the environment in some form.

Changes of the type that would bring on this technological nirvana are just too slow and too partial. They need to be combined with other things that basically slow the current up. And that means taking the priority off of growth. It means finding a new set of laws for corporations — to change their incentive structure. It means us consumers becoming more interested in living more simply.

JG: Of course, when you talk about taking the priority off growth, it’s no longer a technological issue. It’s a political one.

GS: Yes, but the trouble is, our politics simply won’t sustain the changes that we need. And so we really need to create a mighty force in our country that seeks to reassert popular control over our politics before it’s too late.

We’re in a vicious circle where the more powerful [certain] interests get, the less able we are to reassert control, and those that have enormous power and wealth in the country [become even more] able to assert even more. And I think that the environmental community needs to see political reform as central to its agenda, and it doesn’t now. That’s not what the environmental groups do. And that’s a huge mistake, because right now they’re playing a loser’s game, and they keep losing. Winning some battles, but losing the planet.

The other thing that needs to happen is that there needs to be some fundamental challenge to our dominant values. It’s been addressed by religious organizations and psychologists and philosophers and countless others for a long time. But until we reconnect in a more profound way with ourselves and our communities and the natural world, it seems unlikely that we will deal successfully with our problems.

JG: You quote Milton Friedman as saying, “Only a crisis produces real change.” What kind of crisis do you have in mind?

GS: I hope it doesn’t take that. But I think if you have a crisis — a Great Depression, whatever — in a time of wise leadership, we can construct a new narrative that builds on the traditions of the country and its highest values, but also explains where we need to go in the future, and why we went astray in the past.

In the end, the thing that I hope for is a huge mass movement in the country before it’s too late. I really don’t know any other way to make the change happen other than a grassroots movement. The nearest thing we’ve seen to this in living memory was the civil rights movement.

JG: One of the paradoxes of this is that fear is not always a good motivator, especially when it comes to confronting an issue like global warming. People become immobilized and say, “What the hell, there’s no point.” How do you communicate the seriousness of the challenge we face without pushing people over into despair?

GS: I think people respond out of love and out of fear, fundamentally. We will never do the things that we need to do unless we understand how serious the situation is. So you’ve got to deal with the facts.

Do we need also to talk in positive terms, to say we can deal with these issues? Absolutely. And is being hopeful about the prospects for the future very important? Absolutely. But in order to make the deep changes that are needed, people need to sense the scale of the problem.

JG: Do you think the notion of sustainability on a planet that is heading toward 9 billion people is an impossible goal?

GS: Well, let me give you a personal example. My wife and I have offset all of our greenhouse gas emissions from our car, our house, everything. Before we moved into the apartment where we live now, we invested heavily in a big photovoltaic unit for our house, which produced about half of our electricity. I purchased two Priuses, gave one of them to one of my children. We do lots of recycling and other things. We’ve changed all our bulbs to CFLs. You do all those things, and your environmental footprint is still huge.

Moreover, not only is doing all the things that we are able to do ourselves woefully insufficient, it creates this false impression. It gives you the sense that the problem is an individual one, and it’s on you, and you can solve the problem. Whereas the problem is really deeply systemic — it’s only through political action that we will solve the problem.

JG: I visited scientist James Lovelock a few months ago, who has long argued that the Earth is beyond its carrying capacity for human beings. He basically says, “Look, if there were 100 million people on the planet, it wouldn’t matter if we were all driving SUVs and burning coal — “

GS: And it almost wouldn’t matter if we were back in 1950, with half the population that we have now. It still wasn’t a full world at that point. Now it is a full world. Everything we’re doing is on a scale that rivals the natural systems.

JG: Right. And you can say — as you do — that we consume too much, and that our economic system has become a slave to the idea of an ever-expanding GDP. But you could also just say, “Look, there’s too many people on the planet — “

GS: Well, I think a lot of people believe that. I actually have a law, Speth’s Law, and it is that the richer you are, the more you think that population is the world’s problem. But the scale of the impact is really derived from the phenomenal amount of economic growth in rich countries, not from the phenomenal population growth.

JG: In your view, what’s the alternative to pro-growth capitalism? Should we rethink communism?

GS: No, it’s not that at all. But I do believe we should be looking for a nonsocialist alternative to today’s capitalism. I think we do want to make changes that are sufficiently profound that when you look back on them, you will see that it’s no longer the capitalism of the early twenty-first century.

JG: What would a revised capitalist system look like?

GS: Well, let’s take the core of it — the corporation. Corporations right now are mandated to serve and promote the best interest of stockholders, by law. And anything it [a corporation] justifies in the nature of doing well in communities or doing well by society, that’s also got to be justified that it’s in the best interest of the shareholders. And maximizing shareholder wealth is a very fundamental part of the motivational structure of the corporate sector.

I think that needs to change fundamentally, so that corporations really are in the business of serving all of the factors that help generate wealth — all of the stakeholders, in effect. One way to describe what has to happen, and the way that the situation in the future would be different, would be to describe it as a series of transformations. The first would be a transformation in the market. There would be a real revolution in pricing. Things that are environmentally destructive would be — if they were really destructive — almost out of reach, prohibitively expensive.

A second would be a transformation to a postgrowth society where what you really want is to grow very specific things that are desperately needed in a very targeted way — you know, care for the mentally ill, health-care accessibility, high-tech green-collar industries.

A third would be a move to a wider variety of ownership patterns in the private sector. More co-ops, more employee ownership plans, and less rigid lines between the profit and the not-for-profit sectors. I mean, Google is an example of that now, they are moving in that direction, although I think it’s small compared with what they’ve really got going.

JG: Do you think that this kind of change can be had with anything short of a real revolution in America?

GS: Well, I don’t think it can be had without a real citizens’ movement — a grassroots citizens’ movement that shakes up people’s consciousness and forces us to rethink what’s really important, and what our role in the world and in nature really is. I think there is a growing sense that something is out of whack in the country, and that we’re on the verge of losing something very important, not only spiritually but also environmentally. And if we don’t change, we really could pass into some situation where it would be irretrievably lost.

JG: If I read your book right, you stop just short of calling for people to march in the streets.

GS: Oh, I will call for people to march in the streets. I said to my friend Laurie David [producer of An Inconvenient Truth] that it’s time for a million-person march on Washington early in the new administration. We could really make the point that the climate issue has to be front and center in the first hundred days of the new administration. It’s amazing what can be accomplished if citizens are to march in the footsteps of Dr. King. It’s time to give the world a sense of hope again.

This article, along with other landmark Orion essays about transformative action, are collected in a new anthology, Change Everything Now. Order your copy here.


  1. The concept of a “corporation” really is a state-created concept, designed to make it possible to do things (mainly raise capital and avoid personal risk) otherwise impossible for an individual to do. Is it feasible for the government to roll in requirements that protect the public and promote the public good? What would those requirements look like? Could they ever be specific enough to be actually useful, yet flexible or broad enough that it’s not just a huge beurocratic/regulatory burden that wastes everyones time and money in the process?

  2. So few are willing to take on economic growth as the root cause of our current and potential future problems. It is rooted more deeply in our society than any of the traditional religions. It takes real vision and it takes courage. Bravo to Gus Speth for being so bold, so visionary, and so articulate.

    We have our work cut out for us, but there is hope when people like Gus Speth lead the charge.

    Dave Gardner
    Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity

  3. As the economy continues in downward spiral in terms of the lives of common folk, the eco-awareness that would be needed to create a million person march on DC is very unlikely. Millions are just struggling to survive and keep their homes. Forclosure rates will skyrocket in the coming months. Speth’s ideas are lovely but the ever growing greed of hedge-fund managers, bankers and others on Wall St. who keep creating money out of the air with silly algorithms are a force we have to reckon with if we want to change the economy to something resembling carefully _managed_ capitalism. The only way that will happen is if political will exists to get their attention. They are invisible and very powerful.

    Check out the works of Elias Capriles at the U. of the Andes. Search his name. Many choices and his perception is well beyond the “wal-mart-ization” of the human mind. Orion should consider doing a special of his output.


  4. The directive in the title certainly applies to that 8% of the world’s population that causes more than half the emissions (see: Sacala, and nearly all the bloody wars for resources. The rest of humanity is getting tired of everything being changed from a subsistance economy into a service economy for the remote benefits of a privileged master race. Again.

    I thought that Speth’s realization that buying Priuses and CF bulbs didn’t solve any problems was long long overdue.

  5. I am so tired of hearing the “earth is overpopulated” whine. This lowers Speth’s credibility, and wavers towards opening the eugenics door: Gee, where are the highest populations on the planet, and what is their skin colour as compared to most of the rich people? (You can tell I’m one of the rich ones: I am literate and I have a computer)

    The world is only overpopulated by people living “the Rich American Lifestyle” (be it anywhere in the world) Most of the world’s population lives a lifestyle with a tenth of the typical American’s footprint. Time for us rich folk to own-up.

    I’m glad Speth acknowledges that all the energy saving and emissions balancing isn’t enough and causes a false sense of progress and effort. I’m glad he acknowledges that there needs to be a drastic change in politics. I hope he physically leads the march he’s calling for.

    NaTasha Shastan Bertrand

  6. NaTasha wrote “I am so tired of hearing the “earth is overpopulated” whine. This lowers Speth’s credibility, and wavers towards opening the eugenics door….The world is only overpopulated by people living “the Rich American Lifestyle.”

    I’m frankly a little tired of having eugenics brought up whenever someone promotes sensible population policies. Please don’t put words in Gus Speth’s mouth.

    News flash: every low-consumption developing nation on the planet is on a quest to become overconsumers just like the U.S. See China. It would be utter foolishness to focus only on the very difficult task of changing our desire to consume, while ignoring the number of us on the planet doing the consuming.

    Dave Gardner
    Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity

  7. It is telling that Reed could wonder what appropriate limits to corporations might entail, for we Americans know so little of our own history.

    The Founders were as concerned about concentrations of economic power as they were about unchecked political power.

    “The end of democracy, and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of the lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.” – Thomas Jefferson

    For this reason, corporate charters were for a limited time and for a public purpose. Corporate “lobbying” was prosecuted as bribery, and corporations lost their charters if they strayed.

    It wasn’t until the 1886 Supreme Court decision in Santa Clara vs Southern Pacific that corporations were granted not only civil rights as legal “persons” but also immortality.

    Lincoln’s war consolidated political power in Washington DC, and the Court cemented economic power in the corporations. From that moment on, Jefferson’s fears were faithfully realized and the death of democracy ensued.

  8. Dave Gardner calls those concerned about overpopulation “whiners”, and puts Speth in this category.

    Speth, in fact, makes the same point as Gardner that it is the wealthy populations that have the most detrimental impact on the ecosphere. But even Speth woefully underestimates the population problem if he thinks that the 1950s world was in balance.

    Dividing the Earth’s productive land mass among all humans, leaves about 4 acres per person, with only 3/4 acre arable. Ignoring the needs (one might say rights) of the myriad other species, we are now consuming the equivalent of 1.25 planets.

    If we were to grant 3/4 of the Earth’s livable land mass to the other species with whom we share the planet (and on whom we rely for our own lives), then even the poorest regions have far surpassed their “fair share” because of the enormity of their populations and in spite of their extremely low economic level.

    No “natural” population can long overshoot the carrying capacity of its local environment. Homo (non)Sapiens has artificially and temporarily exceeded this capacity by the exploitation of stores of ancient sunlight in the form of fossil fuels. We are now both reaching the end of this resource and the ecological (and geo-political) consequences of our foolishness.

    If we don’t dramatically reduce our numbers by choice, it will be done for us – not by eugenicists but by the implacable tendency toward ecological balance. In the meantime, I agree with Speth, the “privileged” populations will have to voluntarily relinquish our lifestyle, but in a revolution much more profound than the simple reformation of capitalism that he suggests.

  9. Correction needed: Robert Riversong mistakenly attributes to me the comments made by NaTasha Bertrand. Robert, I agree with the points you make and I am one of the “whiners” about overpopulation.

  10. There are people working on exactly what Gus Speth says we need, and they have been for at least three decades (some even longer). For example, Richard Grossman for years has been educating people on how our current corporations came into being and what we can do to basically take back the concept of corporate charters so that they serve the people. Others have been creating community currencies, inventing new ways of living and working together, integrating values into lending and investing in business, land trusts, etc. I wrote about such ideas and models in my books (Economics as if the Earth Really Mattered in 1986 and Invested in the Common Good in 1995). And yet such efforts are still assigned to the margins despite today’s ever-greater need for such models and concepts. Speth is right, it is way past time to transform our economy and our relationships with each other and the Earth.
    It is time to get out in the streets. I love the idea of a million person march on Washington to force attention and action on the most serious issue facing us: climate change. Every other issue is rolled into it, from energy to housing to population. And let’s put it this way: If we don’t begin, NOW, the work of transforming our economy and our way of life, climate change will do it for us, and a lot sooner than most of us thought possible even as few as ten years (or even five years) ago.
    One more thing. If those of us calling for such transformative change also have to describe, step by step, exactly how to deal with all the “what if’s” and “yeah, but’s” then nothing will happen. I’m not saying we should plunge ahead with no idea where we’re going, but really, we’re facing a situation we’ve never faced before. To expect that we must have all the answers before we act is unrealistic given the seriousness of the situation. As I see it, it’s up to us to create the path as we go. Eventually we’ll see farther and farther ahead. Right now the only sure thing is if we don’t change, and dramatically, we’re headed for oblivion.

  11. Re: corporations, see “Help, I’ve Been Colonized and I Can’t Get Up,” and an article about many previous and common features of corporate charters that would amaze you (variously called, “Corporations for the Seventh Generation” or “Fixing Corporations,” in Rachel’s. Re: the pro-corporate domestic “free trade” zone that needs to be dismantled, see my new book, Gaveling Down the Rabble: How “Free Trade” is Stealing Our Democracy. All of the above except book are easy to find on-line. And, for a publication that faces carrying capacity and criticizes halfway feelgood measures up-front, see Synthesis/Regeneration. Jane Anne Morris

  12. I hope that Mr. Speth will include Canadians in any activism. We are well organized and willing to support this kind of movement. I believe the same would hold true for Mexico. A NAFTA presence on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial would make a larger impact

  13. Robert Riverstone (8) wrote:

    “Dave Gardner calls those concerned about overpopulation ‘whiners,’ and puts Speth in this category.”

    Robert, please go back and check. In the “whining” reference, Dave Gardner (6) was actually quoting NaTasha Shastan Bertrand (5).

  14. Lest we forget, the eugenics efforts began here – 2000 or so black females sterilized in the 20’s with no press coverage. Comments by yon “smLowry” are right on. The police tactics around the RNC convention are a taste of what awaits us if we do not organize very carefully. “Free Speech Zones,” no more than locked down cages in the street have already been used and would surely await us as we descend on the capitol. It is quite easy for one in an office at Yale to dream and ignite bigger dreams, but it may take a crisis like the unknowns in Warming ahead to give us an opportunity to reclaim the commons and the gov’t so long in the grip of the Commerce Clause and all that entails. The rich get a _Free Lunch_ in myraid ways.

    We need a “break” in the compelling norms of everyday necessities to mobilize enough folks to even begin planning a movement they cannot suppress. Meanwhile, all levels will keep “making babies” which becomes adults sooner than is easily comprehended.


  15. When we look for examples of “taking to the streets” everyone remembers the Civil Rights era but we tend to overlook the country’s long, long history of battling to build labor unions and earn women the right to vote as well as policies sought through civic and brotherhood associations. We are a country with a rich history of activism that we need to draw on now. Read Theda Skocpol’s “Diminished Democracy” for a new perspective. Taking to the streets without better networked community-based organizations will feel good but produce very little. Where’s the investment to re-build that stable civic infrastructure that can challenge power? We have dismantled and lost much of that old civic infrastructure and new groups have emerged but they are challenged to unite as a force. I’m thinking of Hawken’s “Blessed Unrest” – nice idea to bring movements together but it’s costly and difficult to partner deeply and groups need help to do that across jurisdictions. Where is the organizational heart of this movement? The Civil Rights era was an organized movement. They were ready. One can nary get a penny to organize these days…

  16. Yeah, the overpopulation issue again? It gets tiring. Our world is not overpopulated, just need a better plan to spread out those resources and maximize the population in each place. This calls for collaboration.

  17. Fairings thinks it’s “tiring” to hear about the chimera of human overpopulation. I would suggest that the thousands of species we humans have driven to extinction are even more tired of hearing the ineffective arguments.

    Just spread the resources equally, Fairings says. Well, since Americans are now consuming 23 times the world average, I imagine that he would be happy living on an annual income of $2000.

    It requires 1.25 acres of land to feed one person, and the annual population increase requires an additional 12.3 million acres be put into production – which is the primary cause of forest destruction contributing to global warming, species extinction, loss of soil and myriad other environmental calamities.

    The “free” services that nature provides to the human economy are worth more than the combined GDPs of all nations on Earth, and population pressures are destroying that storehouse.

    Considering food, fiber and energy needs, even of a conserving and egalitarian culture, it is feasible that the planet can sustain a human population of 1.5 to 3 billion.

    The unchecked growth of human population is parasitic on the life support systems of the planet and is fast destroying its host.

    What I find “tiring” is a refusal to take an honest look at reality and make responsible choices that reflect our proper role in the web of life. If I were a polar bear, I’d be completely disgusted with attitudes such as Fairing’s.

  18. I haven’t been active in the environmental movement since moving from Vermont to live with my disabled sister in Maine about 12 years ago, though I continue to write, put out my newsletter, and certainly keep up with what’s going on. But what I have noticed is the concerted lack of an overarching movement such as existed in the past, and even in the not-so-distant (late 1980s – mid 1990s) past. During that time I remember speaking at numerous conferences and “gatherings” held around the country. The gatherings were often specifically for activists working on issues, a way for us to stay in touch and plan strategies together that we would implement when we left. Meeting face-to-face, spending time together, meeting new people, sharing ideas, and also taking the time to appreciate a different enviroment (like visiting old growth, something we no longer have much of in New England) was, it seems to me, an important part of movement building. Today we have the internet and e-mail but it’s not the same, especially so if you don’t really know those you’re connecting online with. What I sense is that, like Hawkins’ book details, there are lots of various organizations and groups doing good stuff but very little connection between them. In this kind of environment a movement cannot be built, not like what we need to mobilize millions of us to ACT NOW. I’m not advocating that we all start flying around the country. It’s a different world now than it was when that’s what I did. But we need to find some way to rebuild the connections and relationships that have withered or even comletely disappeared. And online just doesn’t cut it all the time. Perhaps regional gatherings we can car pool or take a bus or train to would work and then somehow find ways of connecting these regional gatherings so that a national/international movement exists.

    Re: population. I know this is a major issue and at the same time I understand those who get “tired” of hearing about it. Beyond personal choices, it doesn’t seem right to tell other women what to do, and while I know (as I said) numbers are important, developed world consumption is a huge part of the problem, as is undeveloped world poverty. Women’s economic opportunity is key here, along with access to reliable birth control and community/family security. Robert R., I agree with what you’re saying, but when you write about people making “responsible choices that reflect our proper role” this can (and should) include much more than simply whether or not to procreate. However, as a woman, mother, and now grandmother I know that such decisions are not always cut-and-dried. Birth control fails, not everyone wants to have an abortion and on one should be forced to have one (just as no one should be forced to carry a pregnancy to term). And while I love my grandsons, I have not, and will not, ever pressure my kids to have more babies so I can have more grandkids. I have also made sure they know I’m totally fine with having no more grandkids and have also mentioned the possibility of adoption as an option if they really have to have kids. But I cannot tell them what to do and I won’t. Sorry for rambling. It’s just that when we talk about population we have to be clear that this is a touchy subject and very, very personal on many levels. As I noted once at a conference several years ago, it is more often than not white, middle-class men who bring up the population issue. Something to look at, I think. (And now I cringe waiting the responses).

  19. smlowry: “it is more often than not white, middle-class men who bring up the population issue.”

    Perhaps. But though I’m white, I’m working class and live voluntarily at a subsistence level.

    While I agree that any kind of legal control over reproduction treads dangerously close to eugenics (unless it’s applied universally, as in China), and cultural restraints don’t work in a multi-cultural society, either we begin to procreate responsibly or Mother Nature will take matters into her own hands.

    And while it’s true that improving economic opportunity for poor populations, and in particular for women, decreases the birth rate, it is irresponsible to increase economic activity somewhere else without a complementary decrease in consumption here in the first world.

    But I hold little hope in humankind’s willingness to self-limit either our population growth or our resource exploitation. My hope resides in pandemics and the increasingly cataclysmic weather events that we have brought upon ourselves like biblical plagues.

    The root of our problem can be seen in our willingness to celebrate a massive die-off of rats or cockroaches, for instance, but our abhorence of the prospect of a similar die-off of the human population.

    As long as we deem ourselves more worthy of life than rats and cockroaches (or condors and polar bears), we will continue to overspread the Earth like a cancer.

    Odd that we consider it heroic to give one’s life for his/her country but idiotic or immoral to give one’s life for the Earth.

  20. As a white, middle-class male American, I want to follow up on the previous two comments. Can any of us really imagine how to get to a sustainable global society from where we are now? We participants in this discussion might, as armchair advocates for sustainability and justice, imagine agreeing to live on $2000/yr; but can we imagine a majority of our fellow Americans (not to mention the rest of the developed world) doing the same?

    On the subject of procreation, it’s true that the choice of whether and how much is intensely personal. I have no children, and have ensured that I never will. I won’t claim to be motivated by selflessness, however: I just never wanted to be bothered with kids.

    By the same token, I’m skeptical that enough of the world’s people will be willing to sacrifice their own interests, in order to make the huge changes that are required. Our present predicament resulted from the Tragedy of the Commons. I’d love to be shown a plausible way out, but I can’t contruct one myself.

  21. Robert, I basically agree with everything you said in your latest post, especially re: humans being one species on Earth. I’ve not heard anyone saying it’s immoral to give one’s life for the Earth, but do agree that most people just don’t understand what might compel someone to feel so strongly about a particular place (like old growth, for example) that they willingly risk serious injury or death to defend it. To me such actions are heroic.

    It must be difficult to find hope in pandemics and cataclysmic weather events, though intellectually I certainly understand. For myself, I find hope in the beauty and resilience of Nature, in the vast unknowns of consciousness (and the possibilities inherent in what we don’t know), and in the reality of how humans (just one species here as you said) and nonhumans, including Earth (and ultimately Universe and Cosmos though I’ve no personal experience with these that I can grasp) can – actually must – participate together, vastly expanding the nature of our relationship and how we live. You can roll your eyes if you like, but I’m simply basing my hope on my own, felt experiences. I compare it to what happened after my sister was seriously brain injured in a car accident 26 years ago. First the doctors said she would not live, then when she failed to die they said she would be a vegetable. But I didn’t buy it, knowing my sister, and having faith in Love and Spirit. I told her doctor that my hope for my sister’s recovery lay in their ignorance (of the brain’s ability to heal). Needless to say, my sister is not a vegetable. She isn’t exactly the way she was before the brain injury, but she has a good life. I know my sister is not the Earth, but there is so much we don’t know, I have to believe that not everything we don’t know is bad (like climate change progressing faster than anyone thought, etc.). Perhaps we don’t know about healing or the power of love and the Earth. I’m not counting on things working out, but I’m not discounting the possibility either.

  22. Thank you smlowry, that was well said about expanding the nature of our relationships. I have been an activist publisher, writer, artist and grassroots rabble rouser for the better part of 35 years. I find bittersweet satisfaction in seeing more people begin to understand what some of us saw a long time ago about the cancerous growth of corporate greed raping the soul of this society. I am sad beyond words but not surprised at the mess we’ve gotten ourselves in environmentally.

    I’ve worked with others in trying to shed some light on the situation in many different ways over the years. I am now disabled myself from environmental illness. Too many toxic exposures.

    These days I focus my writing on reminding people what it’s like to live in harmony with the natural world through my website and blog at because I came to see that you can put all the facts and suggestions in the world out there but if people aren’t motivated – nothing will happen.

    Everyone has a place somewhere inside that links to the natural world. I believe it is an innate part of our makeup to want to be in harmony with the natural world around us. Even if you live in the most artificial urban environment, there is still a sky overhead and maybe even grass poking through the cracks in the parking lot.

    There is a force there that can’t be tabulated, sold off, or claimed for profit. That, I believe, is where our power lies and what will motivate us to save ourselves from our own foolishness.

  23. Yes, Rebecca. I totally agree. And what a beautiful website/blog. Thanks for sharing it. I’ll visit it every once in a while.

  24. Curiouser and curiousere…, because we have “consciousness that is conscious of it’s ‘self’,” we place our thoughts hither and yon, some reflecting basic elemntal truth that we are just one node in the web of life (the “net of gems”) and facing off about population…. No other creatures would bother. Those _here_ now are here, and we might devote our energies to seeing that they are treated on an “inviolable field of fair play.”

    There is still enough food to feed everyone on the planet; but it doesn’t get there cuz they haven’t $’s to buy it. If all were fed in a “collective consciousness,” there would be fewer births and more chance that the disenfranchised could grok it wise to use contraception.

  25. At last – a rational voice, one that understands the big picture and is in touch with what really drives the global model. Green activism is all very well intentioned and feels great, but without centrally driven step change those efforts are no better than useless. This truly is, or should be, the Third World War fought on all fronts.

  26. What Gandhi-gi called “satyagraha” (peaceful struggle){sort of} could be the core of this “Third World War,” as well coordinated as the “War on Poverty” was here. Head Start worked so well and lasted so long because all the reactioary bias oppposed could not talk it down. Perhaps if we began to grasp that the “personal _is_ the political” and buried our _demanding_ ‘selves’ deeply into what is known as “mushin” (no self) in China, the ball might begin rolling. Who knows? Its as feasible as the proposal for a green march on DC which they would constrain in “free speech zones.” A complete restructuring of a sense of “community” might make it happen. All the “heat and no light” (even here on Orion) deflects energy in ways beyond imagination.

    If it is the “big picture,” then what is the next step? How can _disappearing_ into the cause be initiated? Such is the energy of satyagraha…. The “daughter” trees of the redwooods, the massive stands of Aspens sharing _One_ root system…. The oneness of salmon finding the way to nourish the forest again, as it has been for eons….

    “One country. One ocean. One landmass. One people….” (Midnight Oil)

    Yes, Paul. Satyagraha! Mushin.

  27. Thank you Mr. Speth for saying what needs to be said.

    We have a deployment of Bright Neighbor successfully getting an entire community (Portland) to change its consumer behavior.

    With 4 other communities licensed and demand from around the world, I assure you change can happen quickly if we provide the right tools and get enough critical mass thinking it’s the “Cool” thing to do.

  28. Wow. I never thought I’d see an interview like this coming from dean at Yale.

    I’d like to put out an article I published on September 3, entitled “Political Will, Political Won’t”:
    It addresses some of the same issues as Dr. Speth did, but with a slightly different perspective. It seems that there is a tide of awareness rising.

  29. Good words Mr. Speth. I’ll never forget my “wake-up” call maybe 16 years ago when my management consultant boss, seeing the utter folly of most of his own professional work, declared something along the lines that we need to stop this automatic “corporate growth” idea, that everything needs to keep getting bigger. He saw the folly in it then, and it is this folly of “more more more” that is causing our current doom. For it is simply human nature: greed. The change needed is not only a long overdue new form of capitalism but more important, a mental shift. We need to globally realize the power of our collective thought, and to raise that thought. What’s lacking is *leadership* in the political arena. This is why there is such a grassroots hunger and thirst for change. Our current political leadership is so utterly lacking in vision that the people are uneasy. Constant growth is yesterday’s mantra and is dead in the water. Of course greedy business people try and hang onto this stupid paradigm tooth and nail by continuing destructive business practices and stockpiling money into their personal bank accounts, as if you can eat money (I’ve worked long enough in the corporate world to lose all faith and interest in our current corporate Wall Street business structure, which I’ve discovered is simply entirely legal thievery on a huge scale). Hope for the future lies in a movement that involves local conscious action and a (re)birth of common sense! Grassroots change can save our planet, if we act now and manage to harvest leaders out of this planetary crisis situation. Capitalism in its current form will kill us all, including the planet. But I believe we really can all act NOW to bring it to a halt. This change will be painful, but the pain will be very, very good for all of us, and can produce surprisingly positive results. Crass materialism has become so commonplace that it’s utterly boring. Get people to understand that in a collective consciousness shift (how, I wish I knew the formula) and we’ll watch the planet sigh in relief.

  30. Brilliant passionate words, Suzanne, from _within_ the belly of the monster. Lovely to see some local actions to suborn consumer maniacal behavior. There is more than enough deep feeling our there. What will bring us together in a form that cannot be constrained in a “Free Speech Zone?”

  31. “We could really make the point that the climate issue has to be front and center in the first hundred days of the new administration. It’s amazing what can be accomplished if citizens are to march in the footsteps of Dr. King. It’s time to give the world a sense of hope again. ”

    You know, you can move back to the caves anytime. 1/2 of us don’t want your “change”. Why don’t we just split the country in two so we can stop arguing. In 10years, we’ll then see where everone wants to live. Hope you enjoy starving and freezing in the dark, you fools.

  32. Take a look at recent history and you’ll see how easy it is to “reform” capitalism. when they tried to do it in Germany in the early 1930’s, the capitalists simply killed all the “reformers”. The same thing has happened in Guatemala, Chile, Indonesia and many other countries. So: Good luck! The US is well on the way to becoming a police state, they’ve already got the concentration camps ready; it will take a lot more than a peaceful mass movement to save it.

  33. JohnInOKC,

    Wasn’t there a bumper sticker slogan twenty or thirty years ago, “Let the bastards freeze in the dark!”? At the time, as I recall, the contentious issue was North Slope Oil, the Alaska pipeline, the disruption of Caribou migration routes and the melting of the permafrost beneath the pipeline.

    Well, the pipeline was built, the oil was burned, CO2 continues to accumulate, the permafrost is melting (not just under the pipeline), the methane is being released and the polar bears are drowning because they can’t swim far enough to reach the diminishing ice floes.

    Terrific. Is this what you had in mind, John? More of the same?

    When were you born, John? For almost forty years now we’ve had available to us a photograph taken by the astronauts returning from the moon. How long does it take for someone in OKC to realize that, because there is only one earth, there is no such thing as splitting the country in two? If you cut off one of your legs, do you really think it won’t affect the rest of your body?

    If your comment is representative of OKC, I will assume that you and your peers are not exactly frontrunners when it comes to appreciating the subtleties of paradox. You might well ask, then, ” What’s a paradox?”

    Well, John, a paradox is when two apparently conflicting truths turn out to be valid at the same time. For example, you say “1/2 of us don’t want your ‘change.'” True. But paradoxically, neither do those who are actually calling for change. So, they want it, and yet they don’t want it, both at the same time. It’s a paradox, and they’re trying to find ways of living with it, whereas you call them fools for not taking the one-sided approach that you favor. Burn the oil, is your motto, that way your half will be comfortable, while the other paradoxical bastards freeze in the dark.

    But, John, the handwriting is on the wall. If we don’t turn this thing around pretty soon, EVERYBODY is going to be in the same boat, and it won’t be pretty. The question is whether we follow the “fools” you deride, and make voluntarily changes, or whether we follow you and yours, and do it only involuntarily, when it’s too late, and there is no choice left to be made.

    As I see it, either way there will be a lot of pain. I’m afraid that if your view prevails, which seems likely, the outcomes will only veer toward the worst-case scenario.

    Hope you’re enjoying the heat.

  34. It’s in the air, it must be Springtime …

    Maybe it’s just smog … NO! It’s an IDEA!

    There is Mr. Speth’s book; here is another article @ the Harvard Business website:

    … and the article mentioned by Paul Chafurke (which I stumbled across via ‘The Oil Drum’:

    I can nitpick: Google hasn’t re-invented the wheel, and human civilization did not began with agriculture; the Tree Of Knowledge was actually the Tree Of Religion. How ironic!

    Nevertheless … there is something in the air that suggests that the ‘Business as Usual’ economic model is broken. The ‘business is evil’ idea has been around for quite awhile: think Ralph Nader and Wendell Berry … Thoreau?

    These ‘Wicked’ problems will all solve themselves. I am glad I will be able to watch. There is nothing good on TV. Geopolitical issues will be resolved by war. ‘Excess’ populations will be winnowed by famine. There is nothing new to this; it is long the way of the World. The unburied dead will nourish new life. This has happened before. It is not pleasant, but not controvercial.

    Whatever happens, the world will spin. The ice caps will melt and oceans will rise, the deserts will expand and the great cities will become ruins or radioactive. If enough of the human race is destroyed, nature will reclaim the Earth. In twenty thousand years, a visitor will would not be able to distinguish the difference between that future world and the one that welcomed humans a hundred thousand years ago. We are … simply, a cosmic science experiment. Experiments fail.

    A serious crisis would install command economies and redirect priorities. This has also been done before and is not particularly controvercial. The question is what sort of priorities.

    Corporations per-se are an easy target, not a good one; they are too minor. They are creatures of industrialization and are likely inseparable from it. Take away corporations and leave industrialization, a replacement that would mimic the corporation would evolve.

    One possible approach is bureaucratic; to minimize if possible the intrusions of industrial production (and consumption, since one cannot exist without the other) into our ‘life economies’. This would evolve to a class of Mandarins with unprecedented power … Not a robust approach … when a characteristic of industrialization is the corrupting power of ‘convenience’. But … this is an alternative to the ‘self solution’.

  35. Vitriolic defensiveness is the norm for those with only “personal” values. It is important to forgive, for when the “crunch” comes we will need each other to help one another.
    Those who want to “go it alone” will just do it or begin the killing. Nature’s way, with our kind, since about 4000BCE.
    Apologies for the earlier reference to Gandhi. Indian humans then were a very different breed. They were atuned to listen closely to him. These days, they mostly seem to worship the latest incarnation of Donald Trump in India (see Fareed Zakaria’s book on the “rise of the rest”).

  36. According to most independent scientific studies, global oil production will now decline from 74 million barrels per day to 60 million barrels per day by 2015. During the same time demand will increase 14%.

    This is equivalent to a 33% drop in 7 years. No one can reverse this trend, nor can we conserve our way out of this catastrophe. Because the demand for oil is so high, it will always exceed production levels; thus oil depletion will continue steadily until all recoverable oil is extracted.

    Alternatives will not even begin to fill the gap. And most alternatives yield electric power, but we need liquid fuels for tractors/combines, 18 wheel trucks, trains, ships, and mining equipment.

    Surviving Peak Oil: We are facing the collapse of the highways that depend on diesel trucks for maintenance of bridges, cleaning culverts to avoid road washouts, snow plowing, roadbed and surface repair. When the highways fail, so will the power grid, as highways carry the parts, transformers, steel for pylons, and high tension cables, all from far away. With the highways out, there will be no food coming in from “outside,” and without the power grid virtually nothing works, including home heating, pumping of gasoline and diesel, airports, communications, and automated systems.

    This is documented in a free 48 page report that can be downloaded, website posted, distributed, and emailed:

    I used to live in NH-USA, but moved to a sustainable place. Anyone interested in relocating to a nice, pretty, sustainable area with a good climate and good soil? Email: clifford dot wirth at yahoo dot com or give me a phone call which operates here as my old USA-NH number 603-668-4207.

  37. while i think we must do as Speth urges, asap, with great effort, it does seem to me that it’s all too slow, too academic, requiring more time than we actually have. So while I’m ready to jump in with both feet, my more urgent personal question is where do I want to be when the climate changes we have already unleashed hit.

  38. I course for all of this to happen, we need to be able to do it collectively, is that ever going to be possible? That’s the real problem with Kyoto and other international agreements, we need to be able to come to a consensus among all countries and cultures. But we are all so separate from one another, we need to look at more ideas at oneness with all cultures, before attempting to change any of this, or it won’t be possible. The Global Oneness Project has some good ideas, check out

  39. Is there anyone in the US who seriously thinks adding another 100 million people (by 2050) to the current population of 303 million is going to improve anything?

    Annually, 70-80 million people are added to the world population. We are foolishly driving every ecosystem on the planet into dysfunction and collapse.

    We have used the bounty of fossil energy to enormously over-reach our ecological niche and greatly exceed the carrying the capacity of our environment.

    With the arrival of peak-oil the possibility of a century of warfare, starvation and disease is what humanity has to look forward to in the decades ahead.

    Exponential population growth and economic growth will end in the 21st century.

    We knew all of this was true with the publication of The Limits to Growth in the early 1970s. Yet nothing was done to prevent or mitigate the die-off of industrial civilization.

    And nothing will be done now because the rich will not give up their addiction to making money. Worse, they will now pressure their governments to start the wars they need to secure the resources they must have for economic growth.

    How could it possibly be otherwise? The Enlightenment with its notion of continuous progress and unlimited property for individuals has exhausted its moral capital. We are as bankrupt as the financial institutions crumbling around our ears.

    Hope you enjoy the die-off.

  40. Obvious rantings…also included should be the need to elevate ourselves past over intellectual enviromentalists…become the real human beings that are truly growing out of that which we “think” we are saving. Appreciate more, please. Get real…live little, maybe not as a Yale Professor.

  41. When Al Gore visited where I live, his life style was the opposite of what he preaches…big limos…huge number of black security SUVs…snipers posted on dunes….when each of us lives from within, where we all are truly connected to the Life flow ( whether you belive it or not).. human beings can elevate to fruition….we are NOT the lord masters of this or any universe…LOL.

  42. Ways solve our current problems:
    1. Population must be check
    2. Capitalism must be check
    3. Resources must be check
    4. Monetary value must be check

  43. I don’t think we can change today’s growth related ecologic destruction from within the system. Putting a tax on carbon emissions supports those market forces in the money system which use fractional reserve banking to create money out of thin air and loan it to governments. The best thing we can do about ecologic destruction is a personal reduction of consumption and to live different. Furthermore we have to accept that we are not entirely sovereign masters of our own fate, there are unavoidable predicaments even for creative species like homo faber.

  44. I appreciate in particular Robert Riversong’s comments concerning corperate ‘personhood’. This is an issue all Americans need to understand. As Robert indicated, the founders were very concerned about corporate overreaching into our lives. Their job is to conduct business, not rule our everyday decisions. We need, among many other reforms, a Supreme Court ruling stripping corperate personhood, so that only indiviuals will have the protections of the Constitution, not gluttonous and self serving corporations who can always outspend our individual and community pocketbooks in courtroom battles, and in the media as well.

  45. I think it could be that the major problem with (many) of the largest corporations is not that they are somehow inherently evil, but that they are often simply inefficient and dysfunctional. Corruption or short-sighted greed is just one aspect of that. Sometimes it’s just operational chaos… that’s a lot of overhead and responsibility long term sustainability in the context of society and the earth is just pushed to the side in the interest of barely controlling that chaos.

  46. Reed Hedges said: “I think it could be that the major problem with (many) of the largest corporations is not that they are somehow inherently evil, but that they are often simply inefficient and dysfunctional.”

    I’ll agree that big is, in itself, problematic. But the corporate structure has become such that it is not merely incidentally corrupt but necessarily so.

    The documentary The Corporation (winner of 26 international awards), follows up on the concept of legal “personhood” with the question “what kind of a person, then, is the corporation?”

    By World Health Organization standards, the corporation-as-person meets all the criteria of a sociopath. It is self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful; it breaches social and legal standards to get its way; it does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism.

    “Evil” is a fiction of religious fanatics, but there is little doubt that a human institution required by law to put profit above all else is a highly dysfunctional creature that can not help but exploit human and natural resources and do harm to its environment – regardless of the moral qualities of those charged with fulfilling its mission.

  47. gus: if the subject isnt about overpopulation not worth talking about. there is no growth without breeding. we need bodies. who will stop? not you! continute to contaminate your earth and some night you will die in your own waste. we are doing it. its all called the end of living the beginning of survival . gus- what is “your ecological footprint” with your kids “you produced”. we are net 1 every 9 seconds. its all situation hopeless. and thats how we got in this position. ozzie and harriet left the building in 1959. do your children have children gus? your the problem not the solution . we also have two contries called china and india and they have a right too! just as we! ws, mot

  48. Robert Riversong (49):

    “By World Health Organization standards, the corporation-as-person meets all the criteria of a sociopath. It is self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful; it breaches social and legal standards to get its way; it does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism.”

    For a second I thought you were describing George W. Bush.

  49. There is no doubt that change will occur when people take action….. not just change lightbulbs as you will learn that these new bulbs are very bad for the environment. It takes a human love of the planet to create the change…I suggest that the 60’s were that kind of change and indeed it was a very unnerving time for big business. It would be nice to once again bring on LOVE and PEACE… it is going to be only thru this that change will happen. The mind cannot solve the problems because it has created them in the first place and will always come up with solutions that create new problems… much like your ideas suggested about technology….just more of the same behavior and values but no shift in hearing the pain of the planet. Listen to the EARTH, every cry of the people, plants and animals brings the message… LOVE creates the energy and will to change… to care about the earth one must feel the soil, smell the air and taste the water….. hear the birds and not the airplane..Listening is the key to your heart, the eye sends the message to the heart so shut off your mind and listen….

  50. Well here we are on the subject of money… try to remember this is a made up idea and not something that is necessary to human life here on this beautiful planet. If we did away with money would that mean the end….Who has the most to loose? Only the people with the most….

  51. Ever read Jack london’s MARTIN EDEN or REVOLUTION & OTHER ESSAYS? Rad them, then – and find there the clearcut explanation of the corporation concept, and how it work(ed) in America. People like him were voluntarily forgotten after they died. But you can’t keep the call of the wild down. Speth’s Law was basically inscribed in those wonderful writings from the one who should become again a textbook for the revolution. And if you go to Washington, please count me in – I’ll save my money and fly in from the Alps, in Italy, where I live. Davide Sapienza, Author.

  52. Mr. Speth’s points are so ‘on target’ I am ready to march on Washington today. It struck me as somewhat ironic, however, that the interview was followed with an invitation to “purchase the book” from various online purveyors. Let’s put our money where our mouth is. Go online and reserved the darned book at the public library. I did. ‘Simplification’ starts with small changes. While I don’t mean to deprive Mr. Speth of a well-deserved income from the book, I also don’t believe we need to produce, ship, sell, consume and ultimately dispose of millions of copies of his book when there is one available for loan at the public library.

  53. So few are willing to take on economic growth as the root cause of our current and potential future problems. It is rooted more deeply in our society than any of the traditional religions. It takes real vision and it takes courage. Bravo to Gus Speth for being so bold, so visionary, and so articulate.

  54. As Riversong points out: “It wasn’t until the 1886 Supreme Court decision in Santa Clara vs Southern Pacific that corporations were granted not only civil rights as legal “persons” but also immortality.” Redressing this insane legal decision would go a long way toward affecting the kind of change Speth is talking about, the kind of change we desperately need. A multi-million person march on Washington with the single stated goal of demanding that congress redefine the whole idea of a “corporation” and draft reasonable restrictions on corporate charters would be a pretty good start.

  55. Patricia, et al:

    While a million person march on DC sounds appealing and effective, there are at least three problems with the idea.

    First, imagine the financial cost and global warming contribution of a million people petro-commuting to DC. But would it’s political impact offset the environmental cost?

    Which brings us to the second problem: DC is uniquely organized to handle – and ignore – large and regular protest events. Remember that former General, Chief of Staff to Nixon and Ford, and Reagan Secretary of State Alexander Haig famously stated “Let them march all they want to as long as they continue to pay their taxes.”

    Which brings us to the third problem: The real seat of power is not DC, it is Wall Street. The federal government is a wholy owned subsidiary of Corporate America, which is not going to relinquish their control without a fight.

    If we were serious about taking power away from the corporations and the government that they have purchased, we could do it without leaving home. All we have to do is take our money out of Wall Street (that includes IRAs and pension funds, as well as stocks, bonds and mutual funds – even if “socially responsible”, and all bank accounts), and stop paying taxes until we are granted redress of grievances.

    Then, if we are not granted redress of clearly-articulated grievances, like the Founding Fathers and Mothers, our obligation is to dissolve the government and form a more perfect union. Jefferson thought this would be necessary every generation. It seems we’re long overdue.

  56. Here is an alternative to marching on Washington. United for Peace and Justice, and a dozen other progressive organizational sponsors, are calling on citizens to engage in a Million Doors for Peace Campaign on September 20th

    While the issue of ending the Iraq War is too narrow, in itself, to initiate a real revolution in America, this kind of local neighbor-to-neighbor organizing is what is needed to build a broad grass-roots movement for social/political/economic change.

    We have to stop engaging in ineffective, largely symbolic media events that consume enormous amounts of time, money, and energy, and start building a movement where we live.

  57. Any cultural critique must also include a new vision of the role of the arts – often considered the essence of culture and for some the sweetest pleasure. It’s crucial for visionaries of the future not to offer mere survival but a greater happiness.

    Given the housing, food and environmental crises, why not live in cob and adobe homes and turn the American desert into a food forest dotted with communities who practice a culture based on a formula of sustainable health and happiness, a culture that might even dispense with book learning.

    For a more coherent post on building a culture from the ground up, see “The Very Little Country Handbook” at my humorously titled blog

    Kisses for everyone.

  58. Instead of marching on Washington and straining the area’s resources – why not march in our own communities? I will leave it at that – I have some ideas as many of you hear do. Somewhere else on this site I keep seeing what we need to do when in essence we just need to do it – ACT, ACTION (in the words of another poster on this site)

  59. Peter D.,

    I read your comments after my initial post – Many people are not ready because dreams and aspirations will die, they may not know what to do with their lives – We do not see the full range of possibilities that exist when we reconnect to the land – However, I I can definitely understand your point of view: Stay home! That will definitely raise a few eyebrows – How do we get people to realize the power is within themselves?

  60. nikkitta,

    yes, something about mass marches frightens me… and somehow addressing washington legitimizes the state’s authority. The only thing we need is the freedom for self-sufficient communities to live free of taxation, and, of course, a little courage, love – someone mentioned it – not just anthropocentric love but love of green stuff, love of the Earth (cob, if you wish), love of our wacky children which needs love of play and love of creativity and maybe even love of mortality, for without that there would be no room for the beloved children.

  61. Peter,

    You said it! We are definitely missing the mark. Our children, my children’s creativity is ever so stifled! Stay home, if everyone just stayed home for one day – the waves would rise higher than any tide a hurrican rolled in


  62. Summaries and Reflections:

    Tend your own garden. – Voltaire
    Mind your own business. – Thoreau
    Mind your own children (at home). – Nikkitta
    Big marches leave big footprints. – Riversong.

  63. I’ve been reading Bill McKibbon’s “Deep Economy,” and this interview complemented that theme rather nicely. I will be reading Speth’s book next.

  64. Gus Speth, what a champion. I am glad that there is someone out there with the moral certitude to call it as it is! What on earth makes some of you think that this is an american problem anyway? You are not even the largest single group! Gus is right when he says that radical change is needed now. Think of human kind as living in a fish tank. In the beginning the tank is nice and big so a handful of fish will grow big and have lots of offspring. This continues until the tank, our environment, reaches its equilibrium in sustainability roughly a point where we are probably right now. A fish will produce about 5 times its weight in urine per day. Question…who is going to clean OUR fish tank? You know, ‘Necessity’ is the greatest teacher in the universe. I think its better to start right now putting our environment back into order before ‘Necessity’ does it for us….the transition will be so much smoother !!

  65. Amazing to me is that these obvious truths about change are so thrilling as if no one ever thought of them before. Read Black Elk. Read Thoureau. The real problem lies in our fantasy of being intellectuals rather than doers of solutions. Live little. Be who you really are.

  66. Strange, when so-called visionaries still speak of economies and politics…

    Many actions need to be taken, none that need an entire book for their elucidation, certainly not a publishing industry. I, at least, after 40 years of thinking about action, only have this page to show for it:

    1. For your health, live in small communities, close to the Earth, neither too high nor too low; and keep a steady mind, free of hope and worry, full of all good pleasures.

    2. Only utter lies if you think they will amuse someone; and use drama, competition, imitation and rhythm for the pleasure and education of children.

    3. Give or trade without desire for profit, and do not believe that gods or machines can give you anything.

    4. The community is the family unit and it raises children to be independent and an unprejudiced friends.

    5. Create children if your community and your environment can support them, and live in peace with the knowledge that you will enter eternal death.

    6. Raise children who question you and laugh at themselves; learn to cry for others and to command only yourself.

    7. Help the forest-garden bear maximum fruit, and help each other experience minimal pain.

    8. Praise, promise or predict only if you are attempting to persuade a child; and utter no insults, trivia, or nonsense unless you are trying to make your listeners laugh.

    9. Know the slowly-changing patterns of Nature; and find pleasure in quickly creating new patterns by mentally changing the meanings of words; and find pleasure in briefly creating new patterns by seeing similarities between colors, shapes and distances; and find pleasure by playing with sounds, loudness and duration.

  67. March on state capitals? Only if we do that as revolutionaries rather than reformers.

    We can continue to meekly petition our governments (at whatever level) to serve the people’s interests or we can choose to remake government as did our colonial predecessors.

    A recent Zogby poll indicated that 44% of Americans believe that our system is irreformably broken, 22% accept the right of a state or region to secede and become an independent republic, and 18% (56 million) are ready to support a secession movement in their state.

    When the American colonists realized that imperial Britain was a yoke around their necks, they broke free and created a Union of sovereign States (later made into an over-reaching unified nation-state by Abe Lincoln’s war against secession). Jefferson believed that such a revolution would be necessary every generation to maintain our liberties.

    The Athenians understood that democracy can flourish only in a small nation-state. The Founding Fathers similarly recognized the proper scale for a republic, and took great pains to strictly limit the powers of a central authority and retain ultimate sovereignty in the several states (the United States was a plural noun).

    But they also knew that power invariably corrupts and becomes increasingly concentrated – both in economics and in politics – and can be returned to the people only by a devolution to local democracy.

    Let’s not just march on State capitals, but take them back for the people through peaceable secession and a return to popular democracy and manageable economy.

  68. I haven’t read Mr. Speth’s book, but from what I read here I am not convinced that capitalism is at the root of our environmental problems. I also see a curious contradiction of premises. On the one had, he claims that the developing countries “need to grow,” but on the other hand, he blames capitalism for many social problems of developed countries. Is he saying that developing countries need capitalistic development now so that they can have their share of problems later?

    The ultimate cause of ecological degradation is getting sidetracked again. I can’t help but say: “It’s the population growth, stupid.” Even in scientific discussions of conservation biology human population growth gets swept under the rug. This was the point I tried to make in a recent blog post.

  69. Aydin Örstan is “not convinced that capitalism is at the root of our environmental problems”.

    Capitalism is NOT the root of our environmental crises, because it is only a symptom of the underlying cultural paradigm, and that’s what needs to change.

    Capitalism is merely a hierarchical form of economic organization, based on greed (“enlightened self-interest”). It, in itself, does not require continual growth, but the debt-based monetary system that feeds it DOES, since all money (debt) requires the creation of additional value (interest).

    Yet both capitalism (as well as industrial communism and industrial democratic socialism) and the monetary/banking system are but symptoms of a mindset that values personal advantage over communal well-being, exploitation of natural and human “resources” over sustainable use, power and privilege over sharing and equity, consumption over preservation, etc…

    Yes, the exponential growth of human biomass is a huge part of the problem, but that also is but a result of the paradigm of “civilization” (living beyond the carrying capacity of the local environment). Natural biological populations, living within the carrying capacity of their local environment, do not grow in numbers beyond the balance point.

    Human beings have exceeded their limits for the past 10,000 years because we literally left the Garden and fenced ourselves off from the world which birthed us, thinking ourselves better than the rest of the Web of Life and charged with subduing it to our desires.

    It’s not only the “developing” world but all of us Homo (Non-)Sapiens which need to grow. But we must grow in wisdom and courage and vision, not in numbers or material wealth. Ironically, it is the “undeveloped” – particularly the “uncivilized” – world that is in the best position to teach us what we need in order to be able to thrive in harmony with the Web.

  70. Hi, all–

    Here is the reaction of a full-blown Libertarian who happens to be my brother-in-law. Unfortunately, though I subscribe 100% to the ideas expressed in the article, I have to agree with my brother-in-law that the average American will resist the reforms it proposes to the hilt. And why? Because, like my brother-in-law, the average American has no authentic relationship with the natural world and less and less so as their attention and discretionary time get increasingly gobbled up by the virtual world.

    Bill Holland


    Is the source of this Orion or the Onion? I got about halfway through it before I had to go back and check the source. It must be a spoof, I thought.

    Stuff like this makes my head hurt. It shows so clearly that there are intelligent persons who still remain absolutely clueless as to the operation of an economy. This type of leftist claptrap is yet another example of someone determined that their theory will work better than billions of people making everyday decisions about their own lives. Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Castro, and now…Orion Guy! When will you liberals ever learn (rhetorical question)? The economy cannot be planned. The economy is the result of billions of people making everyday decisions about what is in their own best interests.

    The kind of person who can read this stuff and actually take it seriously cannot (refuses to?) operate in the real world of average Americans. And average Americans, not theorizing elites, are precisely who make the economy work.

    On the other hand, it must be nice to be able to sit around and indulge oneself in such masturbatory narcissistic flights of imagination. Me thinks Messrs Speth and Goodell have too much free time on their hands.

    Have you ever stopped to think about what would happen if someone like this actually acquired any power? They would get into office (whatever that means), make a grand pronouncement (I hereby enact “X”), and then when the economy started faltering they’d wouldn’t have a clue as to how to fix it. We’ve seen it all before: Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Castro…

    All the best,


  71. We have the temptation, at times, to look backwards for solutions, and to sentimentalize simpler or “less civilized” times. Something might be learned from them, but no one should desire to return to them. Thus far no people has known how to live in harmony with nature and other human beings… without illusions, myths, etc.; and none has been able to vanquish stupidity with a culture that fosters joy in creativity and intentional intellectual play.

    Let us talk less like economists and more like creators of the future.

  72. There is nothing “sentimental” about the conclusions of unbiased anthropological research.

    Humankind lived for 100,000 years in harmony with its environment and with one another, without illusions or the intellectual distractions that cloud our vision today. Many relatively intact indigenous cultures still do.

    There is no looking “back” unless one is confused by the modern notion of forward progress, which has led us only to the abyss. There is only looking at what is, and has always been, the simple truth of how to live in balance on the Earth.

  73. Sorry. I am just not aware of any indigenous people who practiced each of the following: population control, good soil husbandry, vegetarianism, strict and long term inter-tribal peace, humane euthanasia,and life without illusions… A few may have practiced one or two aspects for brief moments in history, but I’ve never read of anything better.

    As for the anthropological community, perhaps not all will disagree with me, for I am sure I did not dream up these ideas, though I have penchant for dreaming…

    As for progress, granted that our treatment of nature generally bears no semblance of progress, perhaps we have made progress in other ways, at least among a lucky few…

    Consider the history of comedy. It began with the early sadistic clowns, then came the medieval satiric wits and it may yet produce the gentlest, self-negating self-mockers, as I continually strive to be the incorrigible

    Dewey Dink

  74. To all,

    One thing that has not yet been mentioned by participants in this exchange is that, for all of human history up to this point, we have never had to assimilate, in such a short period of time, so much information, so much knowledge, on so many levels and in so many degrees and magnitudes. It is as if all of the time that ever was had to be squeezed through a tiny funnel — billions of years somehow compressed into a passage of mere moments — a few decades — in order for there to emerge on the other side anything worth calling a future, at least in human terms.

    Jung once said, “The great problem of our time is that we don’t know what is happening to the world.” I can’t think of a more pertinent statement today. All of our formulations, our arguments, our passionately defended hypotheses, take place in the context of our overriding ignorance. We really don’t know what is happening to the world, even as we pile up ever greater mountains of statistics to support this or that point of view.

    By this I don’t mean to say that the arguments being advanced don’t count for anything. I think they do. But I doubt that anyone of us has “the answer.” To quote Jung one last time: “Truth is a concert of many voices.”

    What we may be doing, I think, is rehearsing an ethics for the future, perhaps in some vague way comparable to the ethical stances of Christian martyrs in the early centuries of the Common Era. They took their stand in the face of a Roman empire that crushed them mercilessly, even as it staggered onward for centuries before its final collapse.

    Our own imperial project may well persist for the duration of Cheney’s New American Century, perhaps even longer. But whenever it enters its “final throes” — which it surely will — you can be certain that the ethical foundations of whatever replaces it will have deep roots within the agonized debates of Orion readers today.

    With gratitude to all,

    Paco Mitchell

  75. Well spoken. The analogy seems right, though Rome and various paganisms were absorbed and transformed by Christianity, so that it never really died. History too, is organic, with – approximately speaking – “stages” of growth.

    But I have consumed my share of space at this forum. Good night, and health and happiness to all.

  76. “The great problem of our time is that we don’t know what is happening to the world.”

    I would agree with Jung, but this is true in spite of the fact that what is happening is so simple and obvious that it is overlooked. Just as a fish cannot see the sea in which it swims, we humans are unable to perceive the gestalt which we daily breath.

    It requires a stepping outside of the box of the current paradigm, by which I mean not simply modern industrial capitalism but the mindset of the last 10,000 years. Perhaps the best avenue to get there is the apparently simplistic book Ishmael, which won the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship over 2500 other entries for the best work of visionary fiction. In Ishmael, a telepathic ape (close to but not of the human family) teaches humans by the Socratic method about our fall from the grace of the natural world and about the laws of natural harmony that we’ve violated and must return to.

    When Paco Mitchell or Peter Dudink speak of human history, they make the common mistake of looking only at recorded history, as if human life began with the Epic of Gilgamesh (or with Genesis).

    The roots of a future sustainable human society lie not in these “agonzied debates” or other intellectual distractions but in the plain and simple truths that Nature has always provided and that we have ignored to our (and the ecosphere’s) peril.

  77. time is tight, so i raced thru this article and the discussions. i’m puzzled. did i miss something, or was it really lacking? the discussion of the age-old means of population control that are currently at work and that we, who use so many of the world’s resources, displace to more vulnerable parts of the world.

    i’m referring to wars and intergroups violence that kill off large numbers of people so others can take over their properties.

    to the hunger that creates the populations whose bodies help generate new microbial threats and all the various circumstances leading to famine.

    to the plagues that incubate in and travel through distressed and displaced peoples, including our own as well as those far away.

    to those with voice or authority who stand are ever ready to help spread death elsewhere, never thinking that it could also reach us here. who are then surprised when it does and react in ways that make the toll larger, spread it wider.

    as for corporations as persons, will we ever see the day when a anti-abortionists picket those who kill a new corporation in gestation? until those who “kill” corporations can be prosecuted for murder, we need another legal framework for them.

    unfortunately, for all his boldness by today’s diminished standards, speth isn’t that new, or even that visionary.

    revolution is not the answer. these bear the seeds of what they oppose within them and eventually turn into that which they once fought. and strategies of opposition aren’t the answer, unless they’re part of a larger strategy that includes coming together and recognizes when opposition helps and when it hurts.

    i’m old and tired. doesn’t anybody else realize how much energy and noise and good intentions it’s taken us to move two inches since the sixties and that we haven’t yet caught up with some of the healthy processes initiated in the teens, 20s and 30s of the last century that were erased by WWII and the post-war era?

    i’m not yearning for the “good old days.” they weren’t. but i am yearning for the breadth of vision and purpose, and the habits of courtesy, respect, and inclusiveness among those with this vision and their ability to have true dialogue, in good faith, towards finding ways that work for the many rather than demanding the right to define reality for everyone else.

    what if everyone — even what we oppose — is in some way right? how can we utilize the energy and passion of all this towards more truly sustainable objectives?

  78. I knew I should have visited my optician long ago, eons ago!

    Having made the required visit, I now highly recommend glasses with built-in mirrors, as well as

    The Sixth Extinction – by Terry

    Dirt, The Erosion of Civilizations – by David Montgomery

    Thorstein Veblen is also an excellent optician of the rear and the noble savage.

    While I am a lover of nature, gorillas included, I doubt it can teach us how to live, for we are unique, forward looking species with a responsibility not only to optimize our positive ecological influences, but – among other things – the tonic qualities of laughter.

    Thus, I am most certainly Dewey Dink, the name my parents gave me not withstanding!

  79. Dewey Dink: “While I am a lover of nature, gorillas included, I doubt it can teach us how to live, for we are unique, forward looking species with a responsibility…”

    A “lover of nature” perhaps as long as those gorillas are safely behind bars at the zoo.

    Dudink perfectly expresses the hubristic arrogance of Manifest Destiny that has brought us to the brink of self-destruction (and much of the planet along with us).

    We are neither a “forward looking species” (or we surely would have seen the abyss we’ve been racing toward), nor “unique” from the myriad other species with whom we share this earth.

    And that, my friends, is the crux of the problem. The top of the food chain is always the least important and most expendable. It is the bacteria and phytoplankton who rule the earth. Only when we let go of the absurd Biblical notion of God’s chosen species will we have any hope of living sustainably on the planet.

    All our vaunted intelligence and knowledge is worth nothing if we don’t understand this simple truth.

  80. Eek! I have never felt so abused and misinterpreted! I now cover my rear and flee to more peaceful pastures to think of food, food, food.

    I also recommend these online articles:

    The Genesis of Humankind as Will to Power, or, What Separates Us from the Other Animals?

    How to Grow a Culture: A Theoretical Framework for a Culture Consistent with the Principles of Permaculture

    Now, Dewey will be strong and stay put in his cage.

  81. Not that I dispute the food chain fact, I just don’t think sustainable change will happen through arguments based on nature’s more exemplary behavior or on arguments that generate fear about our demise. The culture of the future should also be delicious, and I’m not only speaking about sweet corn and peaches.

    sorry. I fear I’m out of turn.

    a little levity, gentlemen, please!

    Dewey Dink

  82. Those who fear their demise are those who believe they have a divinely ordained right to life and the ridiculous modern notion of “the pursuit of happiness” (which is another word for self-indulgence).

    A true warrior (one who serves a higher master without regard for self) used to say “It’s a good day to die”.

    We would do well to become warriors again and give ourselves gladly to Gaia to serve the highest good of all life. Ironically, it is only in that act that we achieve complete freedom from fear, which is the only true freedom in the natural world.

    Levity? Another form of transcendence of the material world for those afraid of living.

  83. I agree, it’s time to be more aggressive. People need to know the whole truth. It does’nt matter how ugly it may be. We are all responsible for the damage and we all should take responsibility.
    No more! asking nicely for people to please recycle-WHAT?!!!
    Recycle-do it, do what has to be done to save our planet

  84. I agree that it is time to be agressive. People need to know the damage that’s being done. We need to delberately pull people’s head out of the sand and make them look at the facts.
    NO MORE ASKING PLEASE, please recycle, please stop the wholesale slaughter of OUR planet

  85. Limits to greed…………….

    A remarkable amount of mental energy has been exerted by many ‘experts’ (and wealth distributed to them by their benefactors) over much of my lifetime in a concerted effort to widely share and consensually validate the specious idea that there is no such thing, of all things, as the most obvious of things……..limits to growth in a finite world. Most recently, Schellnhuber in Germany, Rapley in England, Rees in Canada, Hansen in the USA, McMichael and Butler in Australia…….the list goes on and on……..good scientists all, have been noting over and over again that the human species is approaching ecological limits evidently, obviously imposed by the biophysical reality of the planetary home we are blessed to inhabit. To put it another way, rampant overproduction, rapacious overconsumption and unregulated overpopulation activities by the human species now overspreading the surface of Earth will lead to an ecological “tipping point” of some, perhaps unimaginable sort.

    The question seems to have been, Which biophysical limit will be exceeded first? Precisely what will it mean for the human species to overreach and by so doing “give rise to” or “produce” some sort of ecological tipping point? What will happen then? What kind of global wreckage might ensue? What will that moment in space-time look like? Many scientists seem to have been thinking that the unbridled overgrowth activities of the human species would literally and eventually overwhelm the Earth and its environs because the family of humanity has chosen to recklessly ignore the reality of human species limits and Earth’s biophysical limitations. For example, recall the ruthless derision of the great work of the Club of Rome regarding ecological limitations to the growth of absolute global human population numbers.

    Even so, despite all the attention, the warnings and the good scientific evidence, an ecological tipping point may not be the source of the greatest, most imminent challenge to human wellbeing in these early years of Century XXI. The most pressing, most forbidding threat to human wellbeing may not be ecological in its nature.

    For a long time, I have been haunted by the words of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) that are emblazoned in a sonnet about Ozymandias.

    ” I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
    And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
    Nothing beside remains: round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away. ” —Schelley

    What was the “colossal wreck” this “king of kings” observed and how had it happened? What caused the destruction of the world?

    The calamity Ozymandias witnessed may not have been more or less than the incredible consequences of human greed having exceeded limits to its growth. That is to say, the adamant and relentless greediness of kings and self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe precipitated the gigantic, distinctly human-driven catastrophe to which The King of kings makes reference.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  86. Somehow, it appears that we have to focus more attention upon the emerging and converging scientific evidence of ominously looming global threats to the family of humanity that are posed by the overpopulation, overproduction and overpopulation activities of the human species rampantly overspreading Earth in our time.

    The ecological challenges presented to the human community in these early years of Century XXI are vital matters for discussion; however, our failure to acknowledge in open discussion “the human population factor” as a primary, driving force, one that is precipitating the ecological challenges visible on the far horizon, is making our best, necessary efforts insufficient.

  87. Gus Speth clearly states that our present government, economic system and societal values have not only created the environmental disaster that engulfs us, but they also serve as the antithesis of its resolution. This is the first time I heard such a concession from a man of Western academic discipline.

    The next step would be to raise the question, “Why has Western society created this monster?” And the answer is that Europe represents the feminine principle. It is unaware of the universal principle of gender—what the Chinese call the yin and yang from which all things flow—and is out of balance; it attempts to run with yin values alone.

    Western society does not understand the patriarchal nature of the universe, or that the purpose of all existence is to propagate and preserve the species while it grows spiritually. Instead it advocates the pursuit of self-aggrandizement and the accumulation of things material.

    Only when Western thought turns its eyes away from the seen and inward towards the unseen will the problems that it created begin to dissolve.

  88. The change necessary in the human family to realize the Eden again on
    Earth is happening; in fact it is inevitable. Whether it happens soon
    enough to avoid an apocolypse is questionable.

    The essential element is the relationship between the intellect and the
    intuitive. The intellect has become too strong in the cultural stories
    of the people of the earth. When humanity learns how to leave the
    intellect in its place in the presence of the intuitive; then we will
    have peace. That is happening; rapidly enough, I hope.

    Hunamity is learning, slowly, to accord all sentient beings, even the
    rocks, the freedom enjoyed, in partial measure, by mankind as given the
    Declaration of Independence of the US. That freedom in the
    Declaration is being extended to everything, slowly. The Eden will
    arrive when we humans view the universe with mindfulness (just paying
    attention) and respect (acknowledging the existence).

  89. Western man just cannot avoid putting his imprimatur on all things. What has the Declaration of Independence given to mankind? The founders owned slaves, and put the indigenous people of the land on reservations. They destroyed the culture and religion of the people in every land they visited and made them slaves on their own turf.

    The so-called primitive people of the world lived very well before the advent of Western intrusion and the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Their culture was predicated on the propagation and preservation of the species, the worship of God, and living in tune with nature.

  90. I agree enthusiastically with the comment that the Ancients lived well. However, the intellect rose up and dominated the intuitive of the Ancients. Our task now is to find the way the intuitive governs the intellect. That began with the Declaration of Indpendence and will continue with the Declaration of Universal Rights; granting the right of true nature to all the constituents of earth, even to the rocks of the earth.

  91. My comments did not refer to the ancients.

    Who is bestowing the rights you refer to? Who will enforce them? Will it be the great white father?

    There is a way to live outside of the political spectrum developed by Western thought. Most of the world has always lived that way and without the polution of mind, body, and spirit inherent in Western society.

  92. jam response: Re: Patricia Anderson on Sep 11, 2008. The 1886 Sup Ct Santa Clara case did not grant “immortality”: read it, plus the two late 1880s decisions that extended Santa Clara. We don’t accomplish anything by making inflated claims.
    Second, corporate charters, tho affected by federal laws and most of all federal court decisions, are assigned by states, according to STATE laws. There is much work to be done at the state level, including opposing federal court authority in some cases. jane anne morris, author of gaveling down the rabble (2008)

  93. From Jane Anne Morris: (((re: Dudink Sep 18 08 post Peter Dudink on Sep 18, 2008Sorry. I am just not aware of any indigenous people who practiced each of the following: population control, good soil husbandry, vegetarianism, strict and long term inter-tribal peace, humane euthanasia,and life without illusions… A few may have practiced one or two aspects for brief moments in history, but I’ve never read of anything better.))) I think you are wrong, with the single exception of vegetarianism….and then, I don’t know about what you mean by “illusions.” Keep in mind that many accounts we have are from ethnocentric, white male Euros observing cultures that they 1) misunderstood, 2) had a lot of preconceptions about, and 3) might not be aware had already changed at least somewhat due to “contact” (a euphemism if there ever was one) with euros. jam

  94. Jane Anne Morris responds to ((((Paco Mitchell Sep 19 08 who said (One thing that has not yet been mentioned by participants in this exchange is that, for all of human history up to this point, we have never had to assimilate, in such a short period of time, so much information, so much knowledge, on so many levels and in so many degrees and magnitudes. ))))
    jam comment–So, you don’t think that in order to live sucessfully in a tropical forest, or in northern Wisconsin in february, that you didn’t have to have “so much information”? Would you know what to eat, where to step, how to sleep safely? What is all this “information”? Celebrity trivia? Sports stats? A Tolstoy novel? The latest hybrid car? The “participants” in “human history” had an incredible level of info that we can only dream of when we talk of “place.” This is hubris.

  95. Dear Jane Anne Morris,

    Please slow down.

    Do I really have to explain to you that the dominant mode for most people in the world today is to be TIME-STARVED and INFORMATION-GLUTTED? When Eskimos in the arctic drop what they are doing to watch “Dynasty” re-runs on satellite television, we know the planet is in trouble. Are you so enthralled with fantasies of the Prowess Of The Primordials that you don’t understand what is happening to the world?

    Which grub will I eat today? Is this leaf poisonous or not? Gee, will this tree-bark help me survive the freezing cold of Northern Wisconsin in February?

    If your vision, in all its sincerity, can’t even grant my basic premise, how can it possibly begin to address the overwhelming calamities the planet faces today?

    Yes, of course, it took careful sifting of a mountain of “information” for humans to evolve from the fearful little precursor-species skittering among the lumbering dinosaurs and through all the subsequent evolutionary permutations, before we could finally risk the entire enterprise by grandly proclaiming the whole world — even the universe — to be “our” domain.

    That mountain of information was always given, of course, embedded in every aspect of the Earth’s biosphere, geosphere, atmosphere and, beyond that, the evolutionary history of the entire cosmos. Human beings, articulate sparks struck from cosmic rock and dust, inherited their knowledge not only from the animals, but also from the stars.

    We turned our backs on that quieter, implicit knowledge, in favor of the clamor of novel inventions and distractions, until we find ourselves today scarcely distinguishable from the machines of which we purport to be the masters.

    Your reverence for “place,” if that’s what it is, will hopefully prevail in decades and centuries to come, if only from sheer, desperate necessity. But if this is what you truly practice, then you might seek a more fitting target for your charge of “hubris” than my modest cry.


    Paco Mitchell

  96. Perhaps we can all agree that we live in a round and bounded {not flat and limitless} planetary home, one which is rapidly filling up with people and peoples’ products, including millions upon millions of gas guzzlers, other polluting machines and thousands upon thousands of smokestack factories. This is to simply say, absolute global human population numbers are projected to reach 9+ billion people and the leviathan-like global economy is expected to grow in a near-exponential way by many trillions of dollars in the next 42 years…..provided we keep choosing to keep doing what we are doing now.

    Please consider the following proposal as an alternative to what appears to be a soon to become unsustainable business-as-usual course of action. This idea for change results from the realization that we have to protect both the Earth’s ecology and the human community’s manmade economy.

    First, the Earth and its environs are to be spared further wanton dissipation and reckless degradation; and second, the global economy needs to be rescued from becoming patently unsustainable in the relatively small, evidently finite and noticeably frangible world we are blessed to inhabit.

    What could be accomplished if the human family determined to provide “stewardship incentives” to people who choose to protect the Earth and its environs, the same kind of incentives that are now routinely handed out in huge annual payouts to people who are supposed to be growing the global economy….. something the economic powerbrokers are clearly not doing now?

    Please note that billions of dollars are being proposed in financial bailouts for companies building unsustainable products and factories and that year-end bonuses are being directed to “wonder boys” in investment houses and banks who have been uneconomically growing humanity’s global economy by collusively creating dodgy financial instruments (e.g., credit default swaps) and fraudulent business models (e.g., Ponzi schemes). These self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe have ignored requirements of practical reality and turned a great economic system into a paltry gambling casino, making themselves the primary beneficiaries of pseudo-business activities along the way. In the light of such avaricious risk-taking and conspicuous hoarding behavior, they can no longer be called by any name other than “thieves of the highest order”.

    Perhaps reasonable and sensible people can agree that the greed of arrogant, self-serving tycoons and bankstas no longer is to be condoned, much less extolled as somehow good, and that the preservation of Earth and its environs needs to given some immediate attention in terms of funding substantial stewardship incentives equal in size to the financial rewards now directed to the economic powerbrokers.

    By redirecting wealth, my generation of elders can begin to put the global economy on a sustainable, more reality-based foundation as well as to more reasonably and sensibly fulfill our responsibilities as good enough stewards of the Earth.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  97. I a m happy to find a rabble-rouser like Gus Speth in the halls of Yale. It is now November, the economy is cratering and Obama is President-elect. I see him appointing same old same olds. This could be for tactical reasons…we will see.
    Meanwhile, the economy fall out could be
    the catalyst for real change. But I suggest that it will be like Speth speaks: It will take people,masses of people in the streets. Who and how to organize? Georgeann Johnson

  98. Dear Friends,

    Please consider that a titanic struggle between human beings and the natural world is in the offing. It seems this struggle is fulminating now precisely because too many leaders of the 6.7 billion {soon to be 9+ billion} members of the human family generally do not share the perspective of many within the Orion community. Many too many of our brothers and sisters, especially those with great wealth and power, evidently see human organisms as separate from, and somehow superior to, life as we know it on Earth.

    At least to me, it appears that an epochal contest is taking shape on the far horizon between the ‘team’ of “mother culture and father profit” on one side and ‘Team’ Mother Nature on the other.

    This could be the greatest show on Earth in 10,000 years.

    The team of “mother culture and father profit” appears adamant in its willful intentionality to stay the same old business-as-usual course of recklessly overconsuming limited natural resources; relentlessly expanding large-scale production and distribution capabilities without regard to physical limitations of the natural world; and overpopulating our planetary home, come what may for children and coming generations, biodiversity, the environment and the Earth’s body.

    Team Mother Nature simply is.

    Which team will likely be seen by reasonable and sensible observers as winning the contest for success in 2012, 2020 and 2050, if the human community continues its idolatry of distinctly human overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities by choosing evermore unbridled growth just as we are doing now?

    If the leaders of the family of humanity do not choose change, do you have any ideas about which team will prevail and when will the outcome of the colossal contest no longer be in doubt?



    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  99. So when are we all going to Washington? Are there any groups planning a demonstration?

  100. Something is happening in October.

    ************COME TO NYC***********


    Be there. Everybody is coming. We are going global.

  101. Thanks for the info, Steven! I’ll forward it around. Take care.

  102. Dear Kathleen Cote,

    Thanks for all you are doing.

    You can read more about the efforts of the Dot Earth community on Andrew C. Revkin’s Blog in the NYTimes. Here is an example of a Dot Earth discussion on blue whales,

    All we need, Kathleen, is many voices speaking out loudly, clearly and often for the necessary President Barack Obama is bringing to life in a world very much in need of change. Spread the word. Perhaps change is in the offing, change that saves life as we know it, the Earth and its environs from being ravaged by the unbridled overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities of humankind in these early years of Century XXI.



  103. Hello Steven,
    I read some on Dot Earth/Revkin’s blog. Interesting! So can you send more info about the Oct 5th gathering? Who are you expecting to come? please send to Thanks.

  104. President Barack Obama offers us a different kind of leadership and a new direction. I believe we can follow his leadership and, thereby, assure a good enough future for the children and coming generations.

    On the other hand, if the venal, “business as usual” deniers of science who have provided leadership during the past eight years were to end up having their way, then I fear the worst for our children.

    If my parents generation was “the greatest generation” in history, clearly their children {ie, my generation of leading elders} have shown ourselves to be “the worst generation” in history because we will be known to our children as the generation that refused to learn how to live sustainably and, just as astoundingly, was full of pride and confidence with regard to our unsustainable behavior, even if that behavior meant the destruction of life as we know it on this good Earth for our children. My generation will be remembered as a generation of conspicuous consumers and excessive hoarders whose denial of science and unbridled avarice resulted in spectacular abuses of the Earth; whose unmitigated and unconsionable arrogance lead to the irreversible degradation of the environment, the massive extirpation of biodiversity, the reckless dissipation of Earth’s body and the endangerment of the children.

    Perhaps necessary change is in the offing.

  105. The truly sad part about this is that Big Oil will remain in firm control,thanks to the EPA-OBD II Vehicle Emissions Inspection Law, which mandates that all Gasoline powered vehicles, from 1996 to the present,must operate at 14.7 parts of Air to 1 part of Fuel.It is entirely possible to safely convert Gasoline into a clear, dry Vapor that is 100 parts of Air to 1 part of Fuel.Even the largest SUV could easily get 50+MPG,& emit a fraction of the Emissions of a 14.7/1 Fuel System, with more Power, and longer Engine Life.For even more insight, do a search on Tom Ogle, then go to and check out the last part of it.But, all OBD II Vehicles have Oxygen[O2]Sensors that detect the level of polluting Exhaust Emissions.When a Vehicle is connected to an OBD II Emissions Analyzer for Inspection, whatever those O2 Sensors read is detected.Too much Pollution,& it will fail,as well it should.But, with vaporized 100/1 Fuel, O2 Sensors will detect nothing, and an O2 Sensor Failure Code will be generated.Thus, it is entirely possible to fail an Emissions Inspection for not emitting enough Pollution!This insane Law, that only benefits Big Oil, was passed during the Clinton Administration, with Al Gore’s enthusiastic support! Go figure! And Obama can’t change it either, as long as Big Oil is in firm control!And not one Politician or Environmentalist will question the ongoing suppression of Vapor Fuel Technology ! I have asked many, and have yet to get a Reply.Maybe you can try ?

  106. Yes, There are people working on exactly what Gus Speth says we need, and they have been for at least three decades that what we can do to basically take back the concept of corporate charters so that they serve the people.

  107. I would really like to see the EPA-OBD II Annual Vehicle Emissions Inspection Law closely examined, and changed.As it stands right now, it is entirely possible for any Gasoline powered Vehicle, from 1996 to the present, to fail it’s Emissions Inspection, for not emitting enough polluting Exhaust Emissions ! All such Vehicles have on board Oxygen [O2] Exhaust Sensors.These O2 Sensors are set up to detect a level of polluting Exhaust Emissions that would indicate that Gasoline is being consumed by an Engine at 14.7 parts of Air to 1 part of Fuel.If there is a low level of Oxygen, and a high level of Pollution, a Vehicle will fail it’s Emissions Inspection, as well it should.But, Gasoline can be safely vaporized into a mixture that is 100 parts of Air to 1 part of Fuel.With this, even the largest SUV could easily get 50 + MPG, and emit a fraction of the Emissions of a conventional 14.7/1 Fuel System, with an increase in Power, and much longer Engine life.I’m not the first to figure this out.Far from it ! For proof, do a search on [the late] Tom Ogle, and Charles Nelson Pogue.Then, go to, and scan down the page to just before the update.But, even if it is not to be believed that Fuel Vaporization is entirely possible, it’s illegal to even attempt to do so, with any Vehicle, 13 years old, or newer.O2 Sensors are set up to detect that Fuel is being consumed at 14.7/1. A mixture of 100 / 1 will not emit enough Polluting Exhaust Emissions to register on O2 Sensors.When such a Vehicle is connected to an OBD II Emissions Inspection Analyzer, an O2 Sensor Failure Code will be generated, which will result in a failed Emissions Inspection.O2 Sensor Exemptions are permitted for Vehicles that have been legally converted to operate on Natural Gas, Propane, or Hydrogen, and are Registered as such.But not for vaporized Gasoline.Thus, it is entirely possible, under this EPA-OBD II Vehicle Emissions Inspection Law, for any Gasoline Powered Vehicle, 13 years old, or newer, to fail it’s Emissions Test, for not emitting enough polluting Exhaust Emissions ! As long as this insane 14.7/1 Law that only benefits Big Oil remains in effect, the only way to make Vehicles more “efficient” will be to make them lighter, and smaller.This has got to change ! I have asked the Question many times ; “Why is it illegal for any Gasoline powered Vehicle, 13 Years old, or newer, to emit too little polluting Exhaust Emissions”? So far, not one Big Oil Executive, Politician, or Concerned Environmentalist can, or will answer the Question.Those that have replied can’t seem to come up with an Answer either.Can you ?

  108. If only the human community could become as deeply curious and openly communicative about what the human species is doing in the world we inhabit as we are about the activities of wealthy and powerful people. Formidable human-induced global threats to human wellbeing and environmental health are just as evident as the conspicuous behaviors of the most greedy among us. To be a species with such remarkable self-consciousness, intelligence and other splendid gifts and to do no better than we are doing now is a source of deep sadness and occasional outbreaks of passionate intensity (likely signifying nothing).

    Still I believe in remaining engaged in this worthwhile struggle, one in which so many human beings with feet of clay have been involved for a lifetime. For me, the first fifty years of life were lived, as you might imagine, as if in a dream world, the one devised by the greed-mongering Masters of the Universe among us. I had no awareness that a single adamant generation would irreversibly degrade Earth’s environs, recklessly dissipate its limited resources, relentlessly diminish its biodiversity, destabilize its climate and threaten the very future of children everywhere.

    At least we can speak out loudly, clearly and often about these unfortunate greed-driven circumstances, even though they are discomforting and unwelcome, and in the process educate one another. Like many in the Orion community have already reported, I do not have answers to forbidding questions related to the patently unsustainable ‘trajectory’ of human civilization in its present, colossally expansive form; but it seems our conscious denial of, and willful refusal to openly acknowledge, “what could somehow be real” means that the requirements of practical “reality” cannot be reasonably addressed and sensibly overcome. A colossal ecological wreckage of some unimaginable sort is likely to be the end result of our abject failure, I suppose, to respond courageously and ably to the looming global challenges that appear to have emerged robustly and converged rapidly in our time.

  109. I would really like to see the EPA-OBD II Annual Vehicle Emissions Inspection Law closely examined and changed.As it stands right now, it is entirely possible for any Gasoline powered Vehicle from 1996 to the present to fail it’s Emissions Inspection, for not emitting enough polluting Exhaust Emissions ! All such Vehicles have on board Oxygen [O2] Exhaust Sensors.These O2 Sensors are set up to detect a level of polluting Exhaust Emissions that would indicate that Gasoline is being consumed by an Engine at 14.7 parts of Air to 1 part of Fuel.If there is a low level of Oxygen, and a high level of Pollution, a Vehicle will fail it’s Emissions Inspection as well it should.But Gasoline can be safely vaporized into a mixture that is 100 parts of Air to 1 part of Fuel.With this, even the largest SUV could easily get 50 + MPG and emit a fraction of the Emissions of a conventional 14.7/1 Fuel System, with an increase in Power, and much longer Engine life.I’m not the first to figure this out.Far from it ! For proof, do a search on [the late] Tom Ogle, and Charles Nelson Pogue.Then, go to and scan down the page to just before the update.But even if it is not to be believed that Fuel Vaporization is entirely possible, it’s illegal to even attempt to do so with any Vehicle from 1996 to the present.O2 Sensors are set up to detect that Fuel is being consumed at 14.7/1. A mixture of 100 / 1 will not emit enough Polluting Exhaust Emissions to register on O2 Sensors.When such a Vehicle is connected to an OBD II Emissions Inspection Analyzer, an O2 Sensor Failure Code will be generated, which will result in a failed Emissions Inspection.O2 Sensor Exemptions are permitted for Vehicles that have been legally converted to operate on Natural Gas, Propane, or Hydrogen, and are Registered as such.But not for vaporized Gasoline.Thus, it is entirely possible under this EPA-OBD II Vehicle Emissions Inspection Law for any Gasoline powered Vehicle from 1996 to the present to fail it’s Emissions Test for not emitting enough polluting Exhaust Emissions ! As long as this insane 14.7/1 Law that only benefits Big Oil remains in effect, the only way to make Vehicles more “efficient” will be to make them lighter, and smaller.This has got to change ! I have asked the Question many times ; “Why is it illegal for any Gasoline powered Vehicle from 1996 to the present to emit too little polluting Exhaust Emissions”? So far, not one Big Oil Executive, Politician, or Concerned Environmentalist can, or will answer the Question.Those that have bothered to reply can’t seem to come up with an Answer either.Can you ?

  110. We must not let the mass media water down the message with green washing and small shift thinking.

    Nothing short of revolutionary anti-growth economics will do the job. Everyday decisions must reflect a full commitment to radical change. We must demand more of our politicians, of ourselves.

  111. “Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence.”

    Henri-Frederic Amiel

  112. Though can’t say I disagree with anything you say…as a life long environmentalist who actually LIVES out in the environment, I think, you are “over thinking it”…human nature is quite base, full of very low motivations; like the Darwin awards celebrate…we are smart monkeys at times, other times we are so dumb it is unbelievable. You cannot overcome human stupidity, its too powerful a force. I learned this myself the hard way, when the major outdoor magazines started selling products and taking political positions that were bad for the environment.

  113. Has anything changed recently?

    Remember the date, 11/11/11? With regard to population pressures on the planet, has anything at all changed since then? All I can see is more of the same ol’ thing, the same ‘business as usual’ activities, the same unsustainable growth of human consumption, production and population activities.

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