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Conservationist Carl Safina’s Ecosystem Wake Up Call

An ecologist travels to the four corners of the planet, and brings back his report.

Ecologist Carl Safina in Midway, in the north Pacific Ocean (carlsafina.org)

When Carl Safina grabs his kayak and scuba gear and travels the world, we get more than polar bear reports and tropical fish stories.

Safina is a renowned marine ecologist with a writer’s eye and a philosopher’s mind. He’s been out around the world, from his home on Lazy Point, Long Island.

What he’s seen is what remains of heart-breaking natural splendor – and of the groaning weight of one species – ours – on the world. Our dignity, he reminds us, is fully bound with nature’s.

We look at stories of kayak, fishing pole, scuba gear, polar bears – and hear a new philosophy for humans in nature.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests:

Carl Safina, prominent ecologist and marine conservationist, and winner of a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant. He’s founder and president of the Blue Ocean Institute, which researches the ocean and humans’ impact on it, and an adjunct professor at Stony Brook University. His books includeVoyage of the Turtle, Eye of the Albatross, and Song for the Blue Ocean. His latest is The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World.

Read an excerpt from The View from Lazy Point:

Prelude
I slide a fishing rod into my kayak as birds begin gathering over our bay. They know what’s coming. So do I. On many summer afternoons, packs of surfacing Bluefish chase up small fish, drawing excited flocks of diving terns. The terns carry those little fish a few miles to hungry youngsters waiting eagerly on small, unpeopled islands. As it has been for millennia, so it is this very moment.

Having long studied—and sautéed—this aspect of our neighborhood both formally and at leisure, applying both statistical models and garlic as appropriate, I can report that this relationship—prey fish, terns, Bluefish, and me—shows scant sign of failing anytime soon.

The future is by no means doomed. I’m continually struck by how much beauty and vitality the world still holds.

But beauty and vitality isn’t the whole story either. In the panic among the fishes and in the frenzying terns, it’s also evident that nature has neither sentiment nor mercy. What it does have is life, truth, and logic. And it strives for what it cannot have: an end to danger, an assurance of longevity, a moment’s peace, and a comfortable death. It’s like us all, because we are natural. What anyone needs to know about mercy, one can learn by watching nature strive, seeing people struggle, and realizing what a compassionate mind could add to the picture. So I’m also struck that we who have named ourselves “wise humans”—Homo sapiens—haven’t quite realized that nature, civilization, peace, and human dignity are all facets of the same gemstone, and that abrasion of one tarnishes the whole.

My neighbor’s cottage is right on the bay, and where I launch my kayak I find him wading waist-deep with a spade, digging sea-worms for bait. Bob hopes to slide a few porgies into his frying pan by sundown. I ask how the worm digging’s going. Squinting against shards of summer light jabbing upward from the water, he says, “S-l-o-w. Even the worms are getting scarcer.” He’d earlier commented on the dearth of clams. Just a few years ago we could wade out right here and, using merely our feet to detect buried clams, emerge in an hour lugging four dozen. The hour now yields perhaps half a dozen. Nothing too mysterious; a few too many people from elsewhere, having raked over their spots, found our spot. The whole world has a pretty similar story to tell.

But I don’t pretend to speak for the sea-worms or the clams. The voiceless among us got on for hundreds of millions of years without hearing from me.

It’s true that a lot was gone by the time I got here, and that worms are waning and clams are counting down. But, there’s quite a lot left. Maybe not a lot of clams (though I’ve found a couple of decent pockets in the harbor, and my neighbor Dennis generously clued me to a heavy set over in—well, I probably shouldn’t say), but I mean in general, a lot remains. And some of what had gone has returned. You’ll see. As watching those terns and fish and the activities of my human neighbors continually reminds me, the world still brims with the living.

Yet here’s the paradox: In the cycle of seasons and the waves of migrating fishes and birds that come and go along my home coast, I still find sanity, solace, and delight, more than a few fresh meals, and the power and resilience of living things; the wider lens of distant horizons, however, reveals people and nature up against trends serious enough to rattle civilization in this century.

This is a chronicle of a year spent partly along local shores, partly exploring the world from polar regions of the Arctic, across the tropics, down into the Antarctic, and home again. In some ways, this could be any year; in some ways, it couldn’t be any other.

The world still sings. Yet the warnings are wise. We have lost much, and we’re risking much more. Some risks, we see coming. But there are also certainties hurtling our way that we fail to notice. The dinosaurs failed to anticipate the meteoroid that extinguished them. But dinosaurs didn’t create their own calamity. Many others don’t deserve the calamities we’re creating.

We’re borrowing heavily from people not yet born. Meanwhile, the framework with which we run our lives and our world—our philosophy, ethics, religion, and economics—can’t seem to detect the risks we’re running. How could they? They’re ancient and medieval institutions, out of sync with what we’ve learned in the last century about how the world really works.

So, how to proceed? I’ve come to see that the geometry of human progress is an expanding circle of compassion. And that nature and human dignity require each other. And I believe that—if the word “sacred” means anything at all—the world exists as the one truly sacred place. Simple things, right?
As we walk the shores and launch our travels, several axes of possibility—evidence, ignorance, indifference, and compassion—will form the north, south, east, and west upon which we’ll plot our course.

Amagansett, Long Island
June 2010

The View from Lazy Point

My dog, Kenzie, a fifty-pound black wolf—more or less—goes loping along the shore as is her custom, energetically invested in the obvious truth that all adventure lies at the tip of one’s nose. The familiar is always also the exotic, and if you can detect the scent and follow it, it’ll take you far. And soon, as always, she’s way ahead.

Today we woke to glass-calm water. The Sound is stretched taut to the far points of land. Out across the open water, the sea melds with hazy air and blends skyward without horizon. On a morning this placid and beautiful, dying and going to heaven wouldn’t be worth it.

A few years ago, I became the “owner” of a beach cottage that had fallen into such disrepair that I could afford it. One can own an apartment or a condo or a suburban home, but when a place is already old, and if it sits amid dune grass and wild Beach Plums, and a box turtle comes confidently seeking the blackberries it has known about for decades, you feel—at least I feel—like the property has many owners and I’m just the newest tenant.

As much as I admire Henry Beston’s classic The Outermost House, this is not a story about getting a little place out past the edge of the world and finding one’s self in the solitude and the peace. This story is, though, partly about going home, about immersing in rhythms that come naturally. As a kid I’d stalk shallow waters with a net in my hand, captivated by shadows of tiny sand-colored fishes fanning away from me. Despite added detail and time, I’m still the minnow-chasing boy.

But this story’s also partly about a kind of heartbreak for a world that remains so vitally unaware of how imperiled it is. The more I sense the miracle, the more intense appears the tragedy. The only way to feel better, then, is to appreciate less, which would of course feel worse. Let’s put a positive spin on it and say that for now the miracle is winning.

So this story is also about the tension created when those things mistakenly called “the real world”—though they are entirely artificial—continually intrude on the real real world. In a real place, the mysteries of ages pile thick with enduring truths and complex beauties.

And that’s why I was looking for a house. I’d hoped to find a home in a certain fishing village. Well, the fishing village was turning into a resort, with prices to match. The next town was long since unaffordable, too. So one day I ended up down a road through a marsh popular with mosquitoes, looking at a dilapidated summer cottage with no windows and a square hole in the roof with no skylight. It was bright—and certainly airy—but humidity posed a problem. Some of the inner walls had been torn from the studs, freeing a bloom of insulation and leaving exposed wires in a puddle under the skylight hole. Better houses have been demolished. I wisely dismissed that house as a wreck, out of the question.

I walked across the street, over the dune, and got a glimpse of the water. A five-minute beach walk took me to where a broad, shallow bay communicates with the Sound through a deep, fast-flowing channel about as wide as I might be able to cast a heavy lure. Even in the late winter, when I first laid eyes on it, I could see that this channel would be fishy in springtime. The house said I’d be crazy. The place said I was home.
It’s called Lazy Point. I’ve been told the name derives from ne’er-do-well baymen who’d come to squat on worthless land. Whether or not that’s true, I don’t much care; I like the name.

In summer the place is idyllic; it can make anyone lazy. But in winter it takes effort to get comfortable with the gales. I once read that the incessant howl of wind on the prairie could drive settlers mad. I couldn’t really understand how—until my first winter alone at Lazy Point.

The cottages sit on a flat peninsula of scrubby pines between the Sound and the bay. That fishy channel I mentioned; I call it “the Cut.” Along the bay’s south shore runs the railroad, then the main road—two lanes—then high dunes, then the sandy ocean beach that continues on for miles. In winter it’s deserted and I have it to myself. We call the ocean beach “the south side.” And beyond the ocean: more ocean to the blue horizon, beyond that to the edge of the continental shelf—under six hundred feet of water—and then the deep sea, the Gulf Stream, and the rest of the world. You can feel it.

The harbor village is about five miles east; another six miles and you get to Montauk Point, a defiantly reared-up, jutting jaw of land—exposed to the open ocean on the south, and exposed on the north to the full-face force of all nor’easters. Forming the break between New England and the Mid-Atlantic, it’s the southernmost rocky beach on the entire East Coast. We call this extremity simply “the Point.”
None other than Walt Whitman enjoyed the exact same spot: “The eastern end of Long Island, and the Peconic bay region, I knew quite well—sail’d more than once around Shelter Island, and down to Montauk—spent many an hour on Turtle hill by the old light-house, on the extreme point, looking out over the ceaseless roll of the Atlantic. I used to like to go down there and fraternize with the blue-fishers, or the annual squads of sea-bass takers.” Well, a century-plus later, “the blue-fishers and bass-takers” includes me.
With its headland, lighthouse, bluffs, buffeting breezes, surging tides, and crashing waves, this is a place of real power. All the energy draws and holds great numbers of seabirds and other ocean life. It is a great cauldron of vitality.

In the circle of a year you may see around here everything ranging from Arctic seals whose summer home is Canadian pack ice to tropical reef fishes that have ridden up from the Caribbean in flickering tongues of warm water. Some, like the terns that often lead me to dinner, breed here. Others, like harlequin-costumed Ruddy Turnstones, migrate right on through. Sometimes, thousands of miles from home, I run into migrants I’d last seen here at home.

They all remind me that the world is both much bigger than Lazy Point and yet surprisingly small. “I have traveled a great deal in Concord,” reported Henry David Thoreau. And how much greater might he have thought his travels if he’d lived at Lazy Point instead. The coast and its migrants bring to Lazy Point a much bigger picture than any map of the place suggests. I sometimes tell friends it’s possible to see the whole world in the view from Lazy Point.

Excerpted from The View From Lazy Point by Carl Safina – Copyright 2010 by Carl Safina. Published in 2010 by Henry Holt and Company. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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  • Diana

    “So this story is also about the tension created when those things mistakenly called “the real world”—though they are entirely artificial—continually intrude on the real real world. In a real place, the mysteries of ages pile thick with enduring truths and complex beauties.”

    And this is the tension that Thoreau also explored. Thoreau, the man who loved puns, was a good musician, ran his family’s pencil-making business and created some noteworthy innovations in producing pencils, who canoed the Concord and Merrimack rivers and walked the dunes of Cape Cod. How the “real world” of the Mexican War and his time in jail, the surveying he did in Concord, the climate records he kept for years (in observations of plants and when they blossomed), were all part of observing and participating in the great web of life, in Concord and beyond.

    “I have I have traveled a great deal in Concord,” reported Henry David Thoreau, means he found a whole universe there. In “Auguries of Innocence,” William Blake writes, “To see a world in a grain of sand,/
    And a heaven in a wild flower,/
    Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,/
    And eternity in an hour.” The rest of that poem ties the misuse of nature to the fall of empires. As we listen to this show, the whales are singing a music we are too limited to hear and understand, while the spilled oil from the BP disaster still sloshes the shores and spoils the seabeds.

  • Yar From Somerset, KY

    It is a luxury to be able to get out of the rat race, our American lifestyle has become. Most everyone is just trying to raise their kids and survive, praying somehow they will have enough to take care of themselves when they are too old or sick to work. It has been said we all have about a 1.5 billion heartbeats. It seems most of us are trying to get to that target as fast as possible. We think in black and white, seldom do we savior a sunset or sunrise, when being still and listening to our planet is the very thing the world and ourselves need. How do we learn to listen in an era all about everyone making noise. A stadium of 120,000 vuvuzelas, all blowing at once, is the icon of our time.

    I ask you to see the world from a different perspective.
    See a joining of cells, a developing nervous system, the beginning of purposeful adaptation to our global environment.

    An earth that is getting closer to becoming a single organism. Once we realize that we are all part of one, we will no longer cut off our own nose to spite our face. Exploitation will cease, empathy will become our guide. The right hand will know what the left hand is doing. There is hope, how different are we than when the first single cell organism found advantage by sticking together as community?

  • http://www.aguystudio.com A Guy

    We are barely able to pay our mortgages and we have to listen the dribblings of this dink, who had the luxury of taking a year off to star gaze and then tell us about noticing the natural world? How pompous.

    Trust me, even the poverty-stricken masses enjoy the birds and bees, we don’t need to hear about it form some guy who can afford to paddle around “Lazy Point” and day dream above the Arctic Circle.

  • Meg Berlin

    I had the good fortune and honor to work very briefly with Carl Safina in the late 80′s early 90s when he was working to confront and discuss the issue of large scale driftnet fishing which at that time was known as a scourge in the Pacific but had yet not entered the Atlantic until then. There were increasing reports however of rogue driftnet fleets entering the Atlantic. Carl and I went to various UN Representatives in NYC trying to show what was about to happen with these fleets entering into new territory and the dangers they posed. I’ve been watching and reading Carl’s books ever since. Can Carl please speak a bit about fisheries today and whether he sees improvements in various areas as well as what has not improved in 20 years.

  • Chris

    not trying to be a wise guy, but didn’t he have to fly to a lot of the places he visited in a carbon emitting jet? I just don’t think we humans are going to change our “software” in the way that he means.

  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    The Mayan believed that the birds brought the seasons, as in, they came bringing spring with them…apring did not arrive due to weather warming up, higher temperatures, it’s existence depended on them to bring it…just so great to know how other people’s beliefs can impact our world.

  • Larry

    We are barely able to pay our mortgages and we have to listen the dribblings of this dink, who had the luxury of taking a year off to star gaze and then tell us about noticing the natural world? How pompous.

    Trust me, even the poverty-stricken masses enjoy the birds and bees, we don’t need to hear about it form some guy who can afford to paddle around “Lazy Point” and day dream above the Arctic Circle.
    Posted by A Guy

    Wonder A Guy how you and your family are going to live when the oceans no longer have any fish in them and the bees that pollinate your food are gone and stable climate that has lead to man’s rise the last 10,000 years doesn’t support photo synthesis?

    Though I agree, he is privileged to be able to leave the rat race that is of our own making for a year.

  • Jemimah

    Yes, “A Guy” things are really difficult and quite a mess, but it’s sad that you can’t acknowledge the lovely things that ALL of us, no matter what our means, can revel in. It’s a shame that you’re so angry that you completely miss the point.

  • Alex

    We need stories like the ones that Carl Safina tells about the changing world we live in. Ironically, our daily worries about paying bills and getting by is caused by the same system that distracts us from the fact that we are consuming our world to the point of no return.

  • N

    It’s about practing L’dor V’Dor, from generation to generation.

  • http://wbur.org Michele Ferrari

    As a child, I spent my summers on Lazy Point and can completely understand how living there would move Mr. Safina to recognize the impact of our species. Lazy Point is one of those unusual places that feels like a time capsule (especially 30 years ago) of 19th-century style living. We had to even pump fresh water to drink when I was a kid. yet, unlike many anachronistic spaces, lazy Point is on the edge of the Hamptons, Long Island and NYC is only 100 miles away. The contrast is so extraordinary it becomes a teacher.

  • geffe

    Yes, “A Guy” things are really difficult and quite a mess, but it’s sad that you can’t acknowledge the lovely things that ALL of us, no matter what our means, can revel in. It’s a shame that you’re so angry that you completely miss the point.
    Posted by Jemimah, on January 28th, 2011 at 11:24 AM

    Amen to that Jemimah. I was going to respond to “A Guy’s” narrow view of the world but you summed it up.

    The message is if we don’t start to try to change how are living we are doomed. The earth will survive, we might not.
    It will shake us off like a dog shakes off water, metaphorically speaking. Politically this is nonstarter in this nation as we have all these politicians who do not believe in global warming and do not think we should change one thing. In fact they want to drill for more oil and gas off shore and in the arctic.

    Personally I think we beyond help and we will make this planet a hell on earth.

  • Michael

    Hello Carl,

    How do you reconcile environemetal conservation with a presumably very carbon intensive lifestyle? I’m assuming you, like many of the listeners of this program, have done a considerable amount of traveling by flight. This is of course is very carbon intensive. Would it not be a much more consistent with your ideological views to minimize the amount of traveling you do?

    Thanks,

    Michael

  • Tom King

    I wanted to share this Pledge of Allegiance that I wrote with today’s guest.:

    I pledge allegiance to all life
    in its interdependent diversity

    and to the planet upon which it exists
    one world, under the sky, un-dividable
    with harmony and balance for all

  • depends

    Depends on what sort of people you are growing too…

    Right now, we take money by force from those most capable of breeding good new kids, and then use that money to pay near idiots to breed. Some of our most capable and responsible are not producing kids because they do not have money. They don’t have money specifically because they are busy paying idiots to breed through various government programs. We do this out of the kindness of our heart sort of as environmentalists mean well, but often do more harm than good when they work with the government. The EPA for instance uses more resources than they prevent from being used.

    Breeding isn’t the problem, it is what we are breeding.

  • http://cyberfumes.blogspot.com Dave Eger

    Great shows today! In economics and in Nature, diversity is a strength.

  • Larry

    Personally I think we beyond help and we will make this planet a hell on earth.
    Posted by geffe

    Pray for your children and grandchild. They will live to see hell on earth if the tundra keeps melting and starts releasing it’s locked up methane in earnest.

  • geffe

    OK Mr. Guy I just clicked on your link. Your in advertising and design. You seem to deal with large companies and seem to be making a decent living.

    Your comments seems very misplaced to me given what seem to me to be a person who is comfortable.

    So I’m thinking this is more about political ideology than anything else. By the way not the best advertising strategy if you ask me. Putting your link on such a negative comment.

  • Ina Brockriede

    One more time I hear a male tell us that educating women is the solution to reducing the population. I am waiting to hear a male address males’ responsibility in reproduction. Are males unable to be educated? As long as women are dominated by males who have greater strength than females, women will be impregnated against their will.

  • josh VT

    As a Christian, I find myself agreeing with much of the comments, but I think it must be rooted in our love for God and our neighbors. You mention the sacred awareness that planet earth is the only one in the universe with life, for me that is a call to seek the great architect and artist that poured life into this planet.
    Managing this precious planet is vital, but without God it is meaningless and futile.

  • Ann, Barrington, RI

    Yesterday’s topic about growing inequities along with THIS topic represent the MOST SIGNIFICANT, overarching subjects for all people and all governments to work on! Within ONE WEEK, your show has aired these topics! Can you imagine if the USA alone dedicated a week to work out solutions!

    We’ve been given warnings: Hurricane Katrina, the Haitian Earthquake, so many others, farther away from “us”. But, we prefer to connect to an event like September 11 and the military retaliation it “allows” us. We should have helped Afghanistan with their water supply (or something environmental that THEY and their vicinity were/are really in need of) in “retaliation” for September 11, instead taking ANY military approach!

  • dave

    We are not whirlpools on the planet, we can obviously survive off the planet as well. We may be a part of the universe, but somehow it seems that we are moving toward an ability to live on even without a planet to stand on.

  • Larry

    OK Mr. Guy I just clicked on your link. Your in advertising and design. You seem to deal with large companies and seem to be making a decent living.

    Your comments seems very misplaced to me given what seem to me to be a person who is comfortable.

    So I’m thinking this is more about political ideology than anything else. By the way not the best advertising strategy if you ask me. Putting your link on such a negative comment.
    Posted by geffe

    I thought it fit well. Negative. Unhappy. My A Guy does work for wines and spirits. You drink when you are unhappy. So works for me.

  • chuck

    These are good things, as long as they aren’t forced on people.

  • http://cyberfumes.blogspot.com Dave Eger

    Gregory Bateson is great! A Sacred Unity will change your understanding of the universe and life itself.

    Here’s a poem inspired by Bateson’s discussion of the dual nature of Nature: http://challenginglachesis.blogspot.com/2009/06/dichotomy.html

  • Ann, Barrington, RI

    It’s 11:44 a.m. (for when you want to find the place on the podcast) The guest has just talked about making current decisions, philosophies, etc., dependent on what we know ABOUT REALITY NOW — not based on ancient ideas, paradigms, etc.!!!!

    THIS IS IT!!! This is absolutely IT!

    THANK YOU!

  • Zendegy

    Wow. People are really mad at A Guy. Even if he makes money now, he could have first hand experience of NOT making money. Or he might care about those who don’t and understand that a woman who is trying to scrape together a meal for her children really has no energy for anything else.
    On a different note, I still recycle, but I stopped worrying awhile ago. The world doesn’t need us or belong to us. We are an experiment, like all life, and we, like polar bears and tasmanian wolves, will come and go. Such is the very true nature of nature, no matter what we do. We just don’t matter that much.

  • Larry

    We can’t consume our way to sustainable living.

    Such a delusion.

  • matt parent

    On Carl’s comment about the way or system of living would be different if we knew more about the connection of us and the earth. That’s a bit narrow. Many cultures who came long before us already understood that fact. Native Americans for instance. It’s only when Western culture, capitalism had the narrow single minded focus of more more more no matter what that started the destruction of the earth.

  • Larry

    On a different note, I still recycle, but I stopped worrying awhile ago. The world doesn’t need us or belong to us. We are an experiment, like all life, and we, like polar bears and tasmanian wolves, will come and go. Such is the very true nature of nature, no matter what we do. We just don’t matter that much.
    Posted by Zendegy

    So you are fine with humans causing hundreds of thousands of species to go extinct?

  • Raht Ketusingha

    There is a similarity between Carl Safina’s view of the world and that of Buddhism. Does he consider himself a Buddhist?
    Thank You.
    From Raht Ketusingha, Boston, Massachusetts

  • Gretchen Draper

    I’m listening to this program on Vermont Public Radio and looking over snow-covered mountains. The irony of the human impact on the life of the planet does not escape me; but the way we humans respond to the discussion gives me little hope.

    We seem to forget that we humans are Nature, not apart from it. We need to look at our behavior, our habits, and our short-sighted vision and change how we live.

    There is nothing noble or sustainable about our greedy society. I appreciate Carl Safina’s points on the philosophic and spiritual dimensions. There, I do have hope for the “better nature” of mankind.

    For anyone interested, look up Annie Leonard’s “Story of Stuff”. Then, think that this woman has received threats for speaking her viewpoint. That’s what gets in the way of change.

  • Hominid Rex

    The human animal is innately selfish and most Americans have unknowingly embraced the Manifest Destiny view of the world which other cultures quickly adopting. Until we put religion’s view of humans and the world aside and have a self realization that we are simply intelligent animals, our destruction of the world will not stop.

  • geffe

    Zendegy your response to people like myself objecting to Guy’s narrow mindedness sounds a lot like denial in some way.

    He was not talking about poor people, he was talking about himself.

  • Zendegy

    Doesn’t much matter if I am fine with it or not; it is happening. Just as humans kill hundreds of thousands of other humans for land or power or…nothing. It’s simply the way the world is, whether we cry about it or not. If we change it, great. If we don’t, our time will end and the world will go on. Yay either way.
    Also, all the Guy haters might look a little further into his link. His money is where your mouths are.

  • zendegy

    Meh. You don’t know if he is poor or not. We are all anonymous. A website doesn’t make a man rich. And, even if he seems rich to you or me, we just don’t know, do we?

  • Jeff Lorello

    Mr. Safina – would you consider running for office?

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Not mad at A Guy.
    Remember Bill Clinton when the impeachment mess he was in got more and more protracted, and it seemed even his dog would abandon him? We said “he can compartmentalize,” as if it were some great intellectual feat. I’ve never resolved whether compartmentalization is a sin or a strength — or sometimes both.
    I think OnPoint plans out a compartmentalized approach to the world. They charge into the fray, usually with the first hour, and then turn the corner onto the sunny side of the street (or turn from the left side of the brain to the right side, the more artistic side) for the second hour. You might think how can we do that? You’re supposed to be like the Tunisians or the Egyptians, and keep in-focus and on-point until the government elopes to United Arab Emirates or wherever they went. You don’t let up. You don’t compartmentalize. You don’t sleep. You don’t vacation. Don’t you know you never go out to eat where the rich people dine, even if you have a nice dress? To pretend all is well, long enough to catch our collective breath? That would be totally caving to authority and to religion and to everything that tries to herd us against our will.
    No. We never have a glass of wine. We never turn to anxiety medications. We never run pell-mell as if to shake off the devil, saying we’re burning calories. We don’t compartmentalize. We stay on point.
    Anyway, I really like the shape of this onboard discussion although I’m heart-sick about the environment right now.

  • Zendegy

    Matt, I’m pretty sure it all started with agriculture. That was the beginning of the end. Ends can take a looonnnngggg time. Humans ARE part of nature indeed; we are part of the experiment. Life forms go extinct, just as each individual life ends. It is simply part of the process.

  • lyle Cook

    Brilliant program. One of your best. Thank you.

  • geffe

    OK great lets just do nothing. I suspect some of the people supporting Guy’s attitude and world view don’t remember or are old enough to remember a time when our air was so foul that in some cites you could not go outside without having your eyes water all day and have problems breathing. Or that there were times when rivers were so polluted that they would ignite. There was a time when companies could dump toxic waste anywhere they felt like and if someone built a town on top of so be it. (Love canal comes to mind)

    The Guy’s of the world are not part of the solution and being complacent speaks more about the individual than the reality of how the natural world works. But you are right, the earth will shake us off and go on.

  • Kaki

    This is a GREAT report! I’m SO glad you brought up this issue on the air! I study Environmental Ethics and Moral Theology at a catholic university and am particularly mindful of (and concerned by) themes of anthropocentrism and domination found in the Christian creation story.

    The curious thing, though, is that for all the people who have come to believe Christianity is focused on domination of nature, the Catholic Church is today (and was during its earliest centuries) VERY ecologically minded. We need look no further than B16′s World Day of Peace Letter 2010 (or JP II in 1990) which articulated in absolute terms that world peace relies on our relationship with all creation and that we should “learn to read the book of creation” in order to pursue peace more concretely. In secular terms, this was a plea for much deeper ecological mindedness amongst all people in order to preserve the integrity of the biosphere, and it was a recognition that our failure to pursue such ends does and will continue to directly cause violence, destruction, and suffering to all creatures and the earth itself.

    This is a message I find inspiring and wish it was more broadly known and preached on in churches. In fact, it’s even a great point of dialogue between all religions because it’s such a universal moral challenge.

    When I finish my graduate studies in moral theology, I hope to do work in this area professionally. And I know MANY other young people of faith hoping to devote much of the years ahead to pastoral work of one sort or another in this area. If you hear of jobs out there, please keep us posted!

  • Zendegy

    I gotta say, I’m feelin’ bad for Guy. hahaha. But, at any rate, complacent or not, involved or not, big companies still dump and plenty of rivers ignite…it just happens in other countries now. Take a look at some of the work done by BAN for a peek at where our “recycling” goes. You gotta pay more the make change. That would mean ending poverty. But that’s socialist and, if there’s one thing Americans cannot abide, it’s godless socialism!!

  • Larry

    Life forms go extinct, just as each individual life ends. It is simply part of the process.
    Posted by Zendegy

    We are in the Sixth Great Extinction of life on earth.

    Cause: Man

    That is a crime against nature and god (if you believe that god is the creator of life)

  • Zendegy – Massachusetts

    I don’t belive in any god. And I don’t believe extinction is a crime against nature. It is patently part of nature. Just because we are witnessing this one doesn’t make it more important than the many others that have gone before. I don’t understand why extinction would break someone’s heart…

  • http://RuuskaImages.com Alan Ruuska

    It’s a pity that progress in environmental issues is lost to political bickering. When will we hold our elected officials accountable? When will we demand that both sides work together towards a sustainable future?

  • Larry

    I don’t belive in any god. And I don’t believe extinction is a crime against nature. It is patently part of nature. Just because we are witnessing this one doesn’t make it more important than the many others that have gone before. I don’t understand why extinction would break someone’s heart…
    Posted by Zendegy

    We are not just witnessing it. We are causing it.

    Only small children and psychopaths don’t understand culpability.

  • Ann, Barrington, RI

    I wrote about this before & don’t really have time to write clearly about it today, but here is an example of how the environment gets a HUGE kick in the pants really FAST, but with a LONG duration of consequence.

    Remember I mentioned how the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania voted for and/or elected politicians who allowed FRACKING of NATURAL GAS. The State of New York’s governor was able to put a moratorium on this; but PA’s Governor was NOT able to, because the other side won politically (I need to learn more about the specifics, but I don’t live there, tho family members do.) FRACKING may ALREADY be the cause of some people’s water, from their kitchen faucets, IGNITING INTO FLAMES! The area of PA where this is all happening is HUGE. It is my personal GUESS that the Tea Party was really active in PA so that there would be NO calls for regulations on fracking; no regs, no objections, so fracking begins! The water supply in this huge area is often privately owned — private wells. HOW in the world will those individuals get the POWER to fight the major oil/gas CORPORATIONS who are going to do the fracking?

    THIS is exactly why “A Guy” is WRONG and why someone, above, who said, in effect, that nature takes its course & some stuff just dies, is WRONG! WE NEED AN ENVIRONMENTALLY INFORMED ELECTORATE, and this guest is right: if we are still quoting the Bible — it was still the Iron Age in some parts of the populated world when it was written!!! — we will NOT be informed enough to make today’s decisions! This guest is SO RIGHT to couch his whole argument in MORAL PHILOSOPHY!!! This is why this sounds like it is NOT just another nature book about loss with beautiful writing. He is asking us to consider educating ourselves into another MORAL PHILOSOPHY, ANOTHER MORAL PARADIGM! Some of the old wisdom may still apply, but a lot of it is POISON!!!

    The people of Pennsylvania had the MORAL OPPORTUNITY to do the right thing environmentally; YET, they chose the WRONG thing! The sad thing is the Bad Karma may affect the wrong people — it MAY affect the very people who voted AGAINST fracking, or who voted for NO fracking until it can be proved and made absolutely safe to the water supply!

    The thing about Moral Imperatives is they SOUND vague and broad, when, in fact, they usually come down to small, discrete actions, like how we choose to VOTE!!! Or, how lobbyists choose to SWAY the voters so that they vote for the WRONG thing — the very thing that will be biting THEM in the tail!!!

    This author seems to have a POSITIVE Moral Philosophy we can learn about! Positive thinking! Ecological thinking!!! Yes! Thank you Tom, for an EXCELLENT hour! I would NOT have known about this author, probably, without this interview; AND, even within the HOUR, he gave me NEW ways of thinking, and ALSO, he helped me tie together some of my own ways of thinking which didn’t QUITE tie together well enough!!!

    Thank you!

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Why am I not satisfied to “let nature take its course” and the earth move on to presumably better and higher species? For one thing, it’s not nature’s course; it’s human’s course. For another thing, there are already members of the next generation out there procreating and trying to figure out how to live into the future. And it’s hard enough what with the oligarchs and the industrial effluvia and the gushings of the San Andreas fault or what-have you. It’s hard enough when democracies can’t move ahead, let alone countries with regimes that seem determined to plunder their people and their own resources. It seems to require total self-blinding (oh, Oedipus) to dare to proceed when you view the future. The more the merrier? Hardly. The glaciers feeding the Ganges barely bring enough water to people now, and the glaciers are melting. Crisis upon crisis seem poised; there are no ticking bombs in the back seat. But there is a ticking. A crisis in one continent impinges upon another in so many ways. The political future I can’t help them with, but I can try to head for a livable planet and a sustainable way of life.
    I don’t want them sick from toxins, and on top of that trying to out-compete healthier ones from more primitive societies that have been displaced because of OUR excesses, which will become clearer as time goes on. Do we blame every American for what we perpetrate in terms of collateral damage? Do we blame every German or Japanese and their allies for every atrocity perpetrated in that era? Do we understand causality and responsibility? Oh, we can go completely crazy with blaming. I’m thinking of the Cultural Revolution in China, with teens bludgeoning their teachers to death with sticks fitted out with nails. Why? Someone’s idea. And when we blame ourselves (for stressors on generations maybe a hundred years from now), what do we do?

  • zendegy

    Larry, I don’t say we aren’t culpable. I’m just saying it’s happening; it’s going to happen and I’m not sure it really matters. We just like to think it does. Life will go on. It always has and, at least for a long, long time, it will. I won’t be here either way and nor will you.
    If that makes me a psychopath, well, here’s a scary thought for you; I’m a teacher!!

  • Zendegy

    As for the moralists, that is not an objective reality. Morals change with the time. Infanticide was long an accepted form of family planning – even among Christians. Now it ain’t. Times change, morals change. People, not so much.

  • Zendegy

    I’m pretty sure that some people here need to get into meditation or something. And put yourself into perspective. You, me, all of us. We just don’t matter that much, except to ourselves.
    And, Ellen, human nature IS nature. Where do you think we come from? Either way, it’ll all end up the same way, don’t you get it? It’s only a question of time…

  • Larry

    Larry, I don’t say we aren’t culpable. I’m just saying it’s happening; it’s going to happen and I’m not sure it really matters. We just like to think it does. Life will go on. It always has and, at least for a long, long time, it will. I won’t be here either way and nor will you.
    If that makes me a psychopath, well, here’s a scary thought for you; I’m a teacher!!
    Posted by zendegy

    That does scare me!

    I remember reading a theory from a scientist that calculated whether it would be possible for life to form again if runway global warming turned the planet inhospitable for current life forms to live here and guess what he came up with?

    No. There would not be enough time left with in the life cycle of our sun (before it expanded and engulfed the earth) for life to develop again on earth.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Zendegy, there are people who direct from saying that climate change is not happening and is not our fault, without pausing to catch a breath, straight to saying climate change is happening, and may spell an end to the environment we depend on to survive, all that without a hitch. And there is no concept that we humans have an effect. In psychological terms, this is viewed as pretty dysfunctional. People who do not see themselves as effective, as agents of change, as capable of choice and effective collaboration, those people, you have to wonder how they got that inner programming.
    There are plenty of human endeavors (all part of our nature) that have seemed unachievable at the outset. It may be an idea of the limits to human cooperation. How did we get to the end of the Cold War without blasting each other into stardust? The projections were mutual assured destruction. There was total stand-off; the world seemed as likely to be gone in a moment, any moment, as to survive its own technology (nuclear bombs). That is still a possibility. But there are other ways we can rid the planet of ourselves. More likely someone with no clear intentions will do it. We see that access to weapons is all it takes, in some instances.
    However, even in the face of insurmountable and unimaginable odds, humans try to cling to this planet.
    Even when life is miserable (most especially when life is miserable, if you look at population statistics), we try to give birth to another generation, and try to make the world MORE hospitable to our offspring, not less.
    To say we can’t, and we won’t even try — well, I won’t be counting on you to help anyway.

  • geffe

    I don’t believe in any god. And I don’t believe extinction is a crime against nature. It is patently part of nature. Just because we are witnessing this one doesn’t make it more important than the many others that have gone before. I don’t understand why extinction would break someone’s heart…
    Posted by Zendegy – Massachusetts, on January 28th, 2011 at 12:19 PM

    So you’re a nihilist or so it would seem. Some of us do not seem to agree with this philosophical idea.

  • Patricia

    To Zendegy, that is pretty scary that you are a teacher. So you teach children that their actions don’t matter, and they will grow up with that thought and perpetuate your narrow mindedness? What do you teach? Gym? Yes, species have come and gone but we are accelerating extinction as has never happened before. Of course there will be some species left, and new ones will evolve, like anti-biotic resistant bacteria and fun things like that. But we are losing diversity. Diversity is important because it helps to keep other things in check. Think of the problem some areas in the Northeast now have with deer. We took away their predators so deer populations have gone up. Like all of us, they get hungry but most natural browsing habitats have disappeared or are far apart, so they come to our gardens, they cross roads and cause accidents and they transport Lyme disease. We’re destroying habitat because we want land for the growing human population. We tear down forests so we’ll lose the plants that potentially could hold keys to solving some of our ailments. Our world and our lives will not be the same if all we have left are Rock Doves and Black Rats. You don’t need to spend a year contemplating nature to get it. Birds are the most visible wild animals anyone, rich or poor, can observe. Hang a bird feeder near a window. See what comes. Sometimes you’ll get some species, at other times others. The diversity you see could be seasonal, it could be a matter of location. Why don’t some birds that hang out in nearby bushes come to the feeder? You might start to notice that their needs are different. So, if you take away that bush, you take away the food source of that kind of bird, and they’ll disappear at least from your yard. Now carry that to a larger scale. That sums up the importance of diversity. It sad to think that most people, young and old, rich and poor, are more familiar with the names of the local sports teams than they are with the wild animals that live among them.

  • Joseph

    A Guy stated: “We are barely able to pay our mortgages and we have to listen the dribblings of this dink, who had the luxury of taking a year off to star gaze and then tell us about noticing the natural world? How pompous.

    Trust me, even the poverty-stricken masses enjoy the birds and bees, we don’t need to hear about it form some guy who can afford to paddle around “Lazy Point” and day dream above the Arctic Circle.”

    I can appreciate Guy’s point of view. As George Orwell put it in Road to Wigin Pier, an treatise on a different subject, but still talking about how to convince and involve the mass of people, common working people were not going to be persuaded by “Upper class cranks in sandals and shorts.” Also poor working people were not interested in “healthy fruits and vegetables” but in their dreary hard lives they just wanted “food that was cheap and tasted good.”

    I am sort of an extreme person when it comes to ecology and man’s impact on the world. I consider humans a sort of plague that grows without bounds consuming the skin of the Earth. I would like to see negative population growth. That means I’m looking at you parents who have more than one child, even it you can afford it. You can recycle everything you think you possibly can, buy only organic sustainable agriculture foods, drive a Prius, … all of that, and by having another child you are still in the end causing more ecological damage and resource depletion than the most profligate couple that remains childless.

    Writing beautiful books about wonderful natural landscapes that most people will never see is not going to convince the vast majority. The ideas will have to be sold as doing this instead of that will make your life better.

  • zendegy

    Ellen, so you know, I reuse, recycle and all that good re stuff, as well as purchasing carefully, eating vegetarian, buying responsibly and so on ad infinitum. I’m just sayin. We are nothing more than the sand on the beaches and we, too, shall pass. I find endless comfort in that thought.

  • zendegy

    If by nihilist, you mean that I think life has no intrinsic meaning, I guess you are right. But it sounds so glum!! I am the person in front of you at Dunkin Donuts who pays for your coffee for no reason, the person who takes on extra work to help a colleague. All that good stuff. But only because it feels good to do so. That’s the only reason any of us does anything: self interest.
    I guess I don’t need to think I am important or a member of an important species. I just am. The bacteria own the planet and will continue to do so when we are gone. S’okay by me.

  • zendegy

    Don’t be scared, Patricia. I don’t teach my personal beliefs in the classroom. As a matter of fact, I teach some very irresponsible teens that their actions DO matter. Why must you get angry and personal? It is ineffective and childish. Why can’t we have an exchange of ideas among adults who are being honest and thoughful?
    If it makes you feel better, I make special food for the crow family that lives near me and I adopted a child from Haiti who is now going off to medical school.
    You should be careful how you pigeon hole. ;-)

  • zendegy

    Joseph, I loved your post. Though some here might consider that faint praise indeed!! And, while I do have 2 children, only one is my biological child. I agree with you on that wholeheartedly!! I encourage my girls to adopt only. But tell them what do I know anyway?!?! Their guess is as good as mine.
    I appreciate your wise and anger free words. :-)

  • zendegy

    And Larry, talk to some more scientists. Plenty have no worries about life on earth after humans. The universe and this planet did fine without us for untold millennia. I suspect they will continue to do so when all memory of us has been washed away.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Zendegy, I take it you are not a female, or it would be in your bones to put the lives of your progeny in front of your own. Up till fairly recently, giving birth was very risky all on its own, but generally speaking, once the offspring are alive, the particular creature’s duty to procreate is fulfilled, and to be “selfish” in the sense of being a living creature means to put the next generation first.
    I don’t think it’s natural not to care about those who are not yet born, since we have the ability to see what they are up against. Animals who have no concept of their own mortality might not hew to this, but I believe I’ve seen that elephants, for example, honor their dead, see that there are survivors who must carry on, and so can we observe death and survival, and make provision. I think that’s pretty selfish, actually. Very selfish.
    When we pass from this planet, fine. But the biodiversity that enabled our eruption from the biosphere is pretty special, and I am not eager to be responsible for an extremely premature demise of the species.
    Also, you apparently don’t see that a great deal of illness comes before actual demise. Illness and strife.
    What a legacy will be looked back upon: Illness (probably genetic damage for all but the fortunate) and unprecedented strife. “What were they thinking of?” “Didn’t they know?”
    If I take comfort in knowing we will eventually no longer afflict this planet, I take discomfort in what happens along the way.

  • zendegy

    I don’t quite follow all you are saying, Ellen. Not sure what you mean by: Also, you apparently don’t see that a great deal of illness comes before actual demise. Illness and strife.
    But I am a woman, indeed, with two lovely daughters, one biological, one adopted. One is going to med school and one plans to follow in my footsteps and teach. They are good, kind, independent girls raised by a single mom. Of course I put their lives ahead of mine. But I don’t put their lives ahead of YOUR life, or the kid on the street in Brazil or a polar bear. On a personal level I would, of course. Biology demands it. But, in reality, I know my kids are no more important than any other life.
    Who are we to say what’s premature? Humans are so self-important!!

  • zendegy

    And brighten up!! People are healthier now than in all of human history, and live longer, too! And the strife of today, far from being unprecedented, is mild compared to so many times in history!! Each generation thinks the end is near and things have never been so bad. Au contraire.

  • Ann, Barrington, RI

    Tom King 11:37 a.m., Jan. 28),

    I love your Pledge of Allegiance!

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Would I give up my life for a polar bear?
    Talk about putting myself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
    Let’s not turn the planet into “the wrong place at the wrong time” in the near future, whether for our children or for the polar bears.
    Have you got any suggestions, zendegy, for humans becoming better stewards of ourselves and our planet?
    I guess you do, and you have, but it’s not clear why. Is your theory, “I tend the planet in spite of myself?”

  • zendegy

    You know, I have not got a clue, Ellen. It’s taken a hell of a long time to get things this messed up. I reckon that, if we can save ourselves, it’ll take a long time for that, too. It comforts me, though no one else, I realize, that it doesn’t really matter to the earth or life in general.
    All I know how to do is be as good as I can in as many ways as I can. I am kind even when it’s hard, I give when I can barely afford to. All that good stuff. Not because I am special or laudable, but because it seems to be what feels right to me. I know, from working with “at risk” teens, that a kind, consistent parent makes all the difference in a person and it’s easier to be a kind, consistent parent in a world that gives a damn about you, in a palpable way.
    But I sure as hell don’t have any solutions. And I’m glad it’s not my job to do so!!
    I will say, though, that I find it sad that people, even in a forum like this, get belligerent. Doesn’t bode well for us as a species, now, does it….

  • zendegy

    Dang, Patricia. What you got against some little old bacteria? They are fascinating and feisty little critters. And, magnified hugely, pretty cool looking and about as diverse as anyone could want!!
    It’ll all be okay!

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Zendegy, thanks for hanging in there, even in a rather rough forum. There are sometimes — not so much today, actually — people who post who take the attitude that “I can plunder as much as I want, at the greatest cost to as many others as may be in my way.” “Why should I even consider that there may be ramifications to other [taxpayers, senior citizens, disabled people, etc., etc., etc.], as if democracy were not about cooperation and “hanging together or we hang apart,” that sort of thing. And that is an attitude that apparently brought together one of the selfishest nations on earth, if you look at what happened to the Indians, or the buffalo, or …
    And yet it is also one of the righteousest nations on earth. Most selfish. Most righteous.
    The city on a hill. Trying to lead the world.
    I am not totally distressed, however, because even ten years ago, if we were going to have an all-out disagreement about say a new nuclear power plant, it was a lot harder to get assembled all the various voices and interests, and give everyone the time they need to make themselves heard, and to have the rejoinders. Here, in this forum, sometimes people ask questions. Sometimes the answers help them/us think more clearly about this or that. Sometimes it’s better to ask the random person posting here than try to get it from an expert, read the whole shelf of books, or whatever. Sometimes it’s very helpful to see exactly “where someone’s coming from,” and how they react to this or that.
    Democracy will never be the same, with the internet as a tool.
    Fairly often we find that once a post-er explains the provenance of their position, it’s quite easy to take that position on board and make it a structural part of the dialogue. When someone starts out with a conclusion and defends it to the “death,” well, you see what happens.
    I’m glad I don’t have to figure out how to solve the environmental challenges, but I do know scientists all over the planet are working on it (mostly fairly quietly, not by heaving tanks into rivers or whatever tops the news), and I take comfort in that. And I do my best with my little corner as well.

  • Yar From Somerset, KY

    Ellen an Zendegy,
    The concept behind the endangered species act is that we do not understand the inter-relationships in the web of life. We may in fact save ourselves by saving habitat for even the seemly most insignificant species.
    As for the individual; me or the bear, I choose me. But I will work to stay out of the situations likely to force such a direct rational choice.
    We can and should do things to lower our footprint even though we are still a problem for a sustainable ecosystem.
    It is clear to me that the US needs to reduce our per-capita resource consumption by a factor of ten. That is more in line with the amount of resources used per-capita in China. We need to model behavior that bends the curve toward finding long term solutions.

  • zendegy

    I like you, Ellen. :-) It’s all about our little corner, the way I look at it. I was one of those adolescents who thought I would grow up and change the world. But I ain’t Gandhi. Hell, Gandhi probably wasn’t even Gandhi, and I say that with love, cause that guy is my hero.
    Anyway, I grew up and realized I wasn’t going to change the world because I like to eat and wear cute shoes. So, I looked at my corner of the planet. I could almost afford to adopt, so I did. A fabulous near-teen from Haiti. I will tell you, if everyone did that, it would be a good start to changing the world!!
    And, much to my haters’ surprise, I am that pain-in-the-bleep teacher who tells you that your $175 kicks were made by slave labor and such. And, cause the kids like me, they listen.
    I ain’t changin’ the world. And I am never going to. No one of us is. I kind of feel comforted knowin it ain’t my job to do so!! But I try to do what my own little heart says is right, even when it means I can’t buy that new pair of purple pumps from Coach. Sigh. ;-)

  • zendegy

    Yar, I like your name and your very measured comments. And I think that an interesting side effect of less consumerism might just be more happiness. Man, my stuff owns me.
    Someone earlier mentioned Henry David. God, I love that guy!! I’d forgotten the quote about travelling much in Concord. :-) How excellent was H.D.? Would he have been the H.D. we know and love if the girl had said yes when he asked her to marry him? Off topic, but I wonder…
    Anyway, people are easily led. Whatever the people in control tell us to want, we will want. If it’s less instead of more, that’ll take hold, too. They just have to package it right and people will jump on that bandwagon instead. Cause that’s human nature, too.

  • Yar From Somerset, KY

    I enjoy this forum, the regulars speak more to me than the invited guests. I need to read Thoreau more deeply. I was exposed to him briefly in another stage of life and didn’t receive the gift of his words. We don’t know the effect of our choices, but assisting in education is what I see as the most honorable activity. What teacher knew when they answered the questions of Jonas Salk they were contributing to a cure of Polio. We don’t know when making the world a better place to live, but we usually know when we are making it worse. Thanks to all who give their time to these discussions.

  • zendegy

    :-) to Yar. We are all teachers, really, in every moment of our lives – even in forums. ;-)the kids are always watching!

  • Carl Carlson

    Carl,

    Great of you to highlight the pending (or occurring) end of population and economic growth. The constraints are clear. The resulting relevance of any form of ongoing economic or financial machinations isn’t? With a relatively fixed population and a steady state ‘economy’ of shared but economically and physically constrained existence, what is the point of money? Astronauts don’t carry wallets and this is, after all, spaceship earth…

    Bemoaning the unacknowledged external costs of fossil and biofuels may mislead the listener in to thinking that correcting these externalities (and the solutions are green by golly) will fix the economy – when they will patently will not. What we need (and what we are going to get one way or another) is a hopefully boring steady state (static?) low carbon economy.

    The question is what does zero growth economics really look like and how do we get there without passing through anarchy along the way?

    22nd Century Oxymorons:

    Ecotourism (Saving a place by killing a planet.)

    Carbon Offsets (Your lifestyle at everyone else’s expense, forever.)

    Sustainable Growth (Madoff with the planet.)

    Green (Consuming away consumption)

    Bicycles exempted from all above and below.

    Best wishes and travel less,

    Carl

  • Carl Carlson

    Oops – from Vermont

  • millard_fillmore

    Could one of the wise commenters here explain this to me in simple terms, without being verbose? Who is included when we talk of “nature”? Are human beings part of nature? Or are we separate from it? Is nature big and powerful enough to handle human beings and absorb the fallout of our actions? Or is it capable of being destroyed (or negatively affected) by humans?

  • zendegy

    Well, millard, if you can explain what Carl said to me, I will try to answer your queries as best I can.
    Basically, I am pretty sure none of us has a clue…could go either way!!

  • Yar From Somerset, KY

    @millard_fillmore,
    I come at the question of nature from a scientific point of view. The universe is all part of nature. I also have a faith in a universal being. My belief is that everything is information, and information is what makes everything what it is. We are part of the information that makes up the universe. Faith is what we do with the information we have. When we focus only on self, we often actually end up hurting self through our actions. We are blinded to our effect on the universe.

    This little experiment on this little dust ball in this little corner of a solar system in this little corner of this little galaxy, in this little galactic region… in the grand scheme I am pretty small, and yet, I have the gift to ponder. Isn’t that a wonderful gift.

    I change the entire universe with a single thought. I change it with every thought. I am a part of nature. Are you?

  • Joseph

    millard_fillmore stated: “Could one of the wise commenters here explain this to me in simple terms, without being verbose? Who is included when we talk of “nature”? Are human beings part of nature? Or are we separate from it? Is nature big and powerful enough to handle human beings and absorb the fallout of our actions? Or is it capable of being destroyed (or negatively affected) by humans?”

    Let me start with a real story. Both my parents were very religious (Christian), but I never believed any of that. When I was in high school during an argument with my father I insisted that we [man] were animals. He became very angry at that suggestion, and it did not help when I then asked if not did it mean we were then vegetable or mineral. I was sort of a wise ass even back then.

    Serious point in there. In my opinion man is a part of nature in that we are just one more species that has evolved and now exists on this planet. This view is not held by all (just listen sometime to someone like Ann Coulter’s views) now, and even less so in history. Though sometimes people, when they speak of nature, mean life other than human, and sometimes life other than that life essentially created by humans. Are species of domesticated plants and animals that only exist through human action past and present part of nature? Is a cultivated field of wheat, that will also contain a huge variety of other species in numbers far exceeding wheat plants, part of nature?

    Is nature big enough to adsorb fallout of our actions? Well yes and no, depending on what you mean. I don’t envision any scenario where out actions could possibly eradicate all of the life on Earth. What we have done in the past, and are currently doing now at an accelerated rate, is destroy individual species of life and drastically altering the evolution of species; sometimes driving to extinction and sometimes providing the conditions for one species to displace another where this would not have happened ‘naturally.’ Unfortunately for human ascetics (if for no other reason) our impact is more heavily felt the further one goes up the evolutionary ladder. There is an interesting article in the latest issue of Smithsonian Magazine about how the North American Lynx may be endangered from human activity. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Tracking-the-Elusive-Lynx.html This not due to just the usual suspects of habitat loss and pouching, but global warming is leading to shorter and warmer winters, This is lessening the areas and length of time that lynx can exist out of competition with mountain lions and bears.

    ‘Nature’ will always exist, even if just in the form of things like insects, primitive plants, and of course single cell life. Adam had’em and so will the last man on Earth. :) Man’s fate? Possibly like cultures in a Petri dish. Explosive growth until all nutrients are used up and toxic waste accumulation kills it all. More likely a point where drastic reduction in population is inevitable, but our ability to adapt and shape the world around us allows us to survive. These are just my guesses and of course we have been around for such a short time relative to most other species that it’s really hard to predict.

  • Joseph

    Oops correction. ascetics should have been asthetics :(

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    I have never been in the woods to hear the wolves howling to each other, nor in the oceans to hear the whales using the water as a megaphone across many latitudes. But I think there is a new language in the internet, and I’m wondering if other blogs do it the way we do here. I was checking all over last night to see the Egyptians rehearsing their chants in the dark streets, and watch tweeters and bloggers talking about it.
    I’m thinking a chatboard can create the equivalent of American jazz, the music of ideas/perpectives, tuned to one another, building on each other, using the ancient drumbeats and harmonies to create momentums that have shaped us from time immemorial. I have thought to call it “group-think,” and apparently that term has been preemptively defined as something like herd-instinct, total conformity. That’s not my jazz. My group-think jazz has individuality built in, and therefore gets a lot further than a bunch of conforming robots (or sheep) could go.
    So where do art and nature split off from each other? Don’t insult the whales or the birds by saying we have a monopoly on art.

  • http://www.robreyart.com Rob

    One very possible starting point to accounting for the consumption of people in our economy, to slow the growth-mentality, would be to stop giving tax breaks for having children and start adding taxes for them.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    What about for adopting children? Would they still have the tax break?
    And wouldn’t the foster care system become overburdened by those tax-shelter children who are suddenly just the opposite, tax-burden children?
    The departments of children and families wouldn’t be scrambling to help parents keep their little tax shelter on board.
    Actually, foster care I think usually deals with families where the tax deductions apply to a grand income of almost no income at all, so it wouldn’t matter.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    I haven’t got my handy-dandy book of statistics, but my recall is that the birth rate is by far highest in the Sub-Saharan countries where HIV-AIDS is decimating the population, and in general the birth rate confirms that the poorer the people, the more they reproduce. Children ARE the guarantee of the future, not skills or jobs or bank accounts.
    So to get at the “growth” that is killing us, we have to look at poverty first, not punishing parents.
    By the way, the Chinese have certainly taken a position on birth rates, and I think we can expect their overflow of males (the couples there for some reason manage to select for males) will create emigration, and where do you suppose all those competitive young Chinese looking to succeed and establish families will come?

  • Brett

    I think we are part of nature AND separate from it. I wonder (and this is NOT rhetorical, as I don’t know) if we are the only living entities in the universe that seem to, as a function of what it means to be human beings, commit actions against natural flow and balance within the systems of the natural world? Our evolution seems to be the stuff of Greek tragedy (ostensibly, our strengths will ultimately be our demise), yet we also have the capacity to transcend so much about our baser instincts, so much about our “nature.”

    Regarding the planet staying suitable enough environmentally for our inhabitance(and the inhabitance of various flora and fauna): our behaviors will probably eventually contribute enough to an environmental change so as to preclude our ability to sustain ourselves and exist as a species. We’ll probably take casualties from other species along with us. It also seems that whatever endeavors we undertake as human beings to attempt a pull back from this collision with destiny will be “too little, too late.” It is incumbent upon us to make attempts TO pull back, however, no matter how futile those attempts may turn out to be. Besides, as zendegy says, those attempts make us feel good; those attempts make us feel altruistic. They also can and do help in very small ways, some of which are actually measurable, albeit only in our little corner; they can provide a longer, better quality of life for ourselves and for our neighbors, so to speak. I’ve seen this phenomenon first-hand from living in both polluted and non-polluted communities/environments.

    I also think that we will not, in our use/misuse of the planet, completely destroy it, and the world will be around long after we, as a species, are gone. We will not cause the earth’s demise; we will, however, most likely hasten its inability to sustain us on it, as well as hasten the end of many flora and fauna we revere so much.

    Regarding how this forum seems to chug along: there are all manner of comments and commentators. Conveying the right, intended tone seems to be the biggest stumbling block to a free exchange of ideas here. Some seem committed to perpetuating an environment conducive to a free exchange of ideas; some seem intent not to really want a free exchange of ideas, just to express their opinions; some seem to vacillate between a desire to exchange ideas and a desire to express their views; some find a challenge in pointing to potential flaws in another’s opinions; some are provocative for the purposes of not only finding their stride but to test their own assumptions about themselves, to get at the parameters of who they themselves are or think they are (if nothing more than to test their own limits in the most civil way imaginable: through the written word) and to push others to determine where they are truly “coming from;” others, such as myself, wander among all of these options.

    As Ellen stated, “zendegy, thanks for hanging in there, even in a rather rough forum.” I hope she (“zendegy”…well, of course, Ellen, too ;-)) returns; we can use another voice in this forum willing to “hang in there”!

    My immediate concern now is threefold: my 12:30pm appointment didn’t show up! (And he won’t be getting a refund, as he didn’t call!) My 1:00pm will be here in a minute or two…oh, and I’m hungry!!!

  • Joseph

    Eilen Dibble stated: “I haven’t got my handy-dandy book of statistics, but my recall is that the birth rate is by far highest in the Sub-Saharan countries where HIV-AIDS is decimating the population, and in general the birth rate confirms that the poorer the people, the more they reproduce. Children ARE the guarantee of the future, not skills or jobs or bank accounts.
    So to get at the “growth” that is killing us, we have to look at poverty first, not punishing parents.”

    Yes, all evidence suggests that the truth of that, that population growth decreases dramatically when a population is lifted out of poverty. Probably due to decrease in infant and childhood mortality (leading couples to have fewer children with the greater chances that children will survive to adulthood) and increased opportunity for women.

    The problem with that is that as nations begin to acquire the standard of living of Western nations their populations begin to consume resources at a comparable rate. The total world population has now reached such a number that I doubt that the planet can handle this with respect to issues like available energy, water resources, and global warming. It will be a tough sell to other nations to tell them bring your standard of living up to the point where your population growth is stopped, but don’t expect a life style to match our rate of resource consumption.

  • zendegy

    I am inclined to think that, while we may be instrumental in the extinction of many species along the way, eventually, if the earth just can’t take us anymore, we, too, will become extinct. I suppose we might do ourselves in somehow, but I’m always inclined to imagine those microscopic rulers of the planet having the final say.

    I guess I just don’t understand why humans still, after all science has taught us, continue to be so determined to imagine ourselves as the whole point, as some pinnacle of evolution. Really? Because of cities and the internet? Much as I love modern technology and all, just how exactly is our way better than, say, the bonobo way? Frankly, I’d rather be a bonobo anyday!! Less thinking and more, um, recreational activity of a close personal type.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    At some point the oligarchs will see that force-feeding us as if our consumption (of oil, commodities) were all in the interests of foix gras, goose liver of over-stuffed geese, that such force-feeding on a global scale will cause such bloating and gas that their fine meal (profits) begin to seem trifling.
    Does it matter if we persuade emerging populations NOT to become like us? Does it matter if we use our wealth to jump-start a sustainable way of life?
    The captains of industry may at first think that is the answer: green consumption and family planning.
    But it will probably be too late.
    On the other hand, the trifling rewards of the foix-gras may also be seen as flimsy next to populations dimmed and cramped and oozing at the pores, cancerous, sclerotic, demented from all the lead, mercury, cadmium, aluminum — the various ores mined from the earth finding their ways into our bodies. We will think this is how we are meant to be, human garbage disposals for our own industrial wastes, and become jumpy as a March hare or a mad hatter. We can chemically mute the effects for a while, and no one will remember the “before” era.
    But diminishing resources (water, food) coupled with more frequent and more overwhelming crises, affecting greater quantities of people, and greater swaths of capital value (cities, things) will overwhelm our ability to deal with it, not only nation by nation, but as a species.
    Science may offer enough answers, maybe only just in the nick of time. But surely new ways of organizing politically will be part of it.
    I don’t think bonobos are likely to survive if we don’t survive too. I’ll have to buy Safina’s books to see exactly what’s coming down the pike, but I’m sort of re-arranging the “house” (the part of my head that plans intergenerationally, makes “space” out beyond my own life) to the extent I can, to allow for coming generations to take steps that I cannot possibly envision.
    Imagine 150 years ago. Telegraph, new. Railroads, new. Medicine, part herbal, part faith. Sewage? Outhouse. Water? Wells. How did we get here? We did not plan it the way it is now, but we somehow we got here from there, and we don’t seem eager to go back, so it’s not all bad.
    I hope we can start, as a planet, to think together about what comes next. About what might sustainably come next.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    We look at the world and the future of life and think “scared,” where we should think of the world and the future of life and think “sacred.” Respect of such magnitude that it freezes us, make us into animals hoping not to be snatched up by an eagle, is not going to help. We are humans, and if the moment calls for us to stand on a moment and be stricken by lightning, we can put our arms out and do that. An animal might have no idea what the symbolism might mean.

  • http://carlsafina.org;blueocean.org carl safina

    Ellen and everyone,

    Interesting thoughts; you’ll see that i delve into a lot of similar ideas in the book The View From Lazy Point that we were discussing in the interview.

    Two other comments generally. I’m sensitive to the criticism that my travels used a lot of carbon. True enough, though i did not charter anything; the boats and planes would have gone to their destinations with or without me. But true enough. However, the point is, we don’t have a practical choice to go and bear global witness in low-carbon conveyances because we’ve painted ourselves into a corner with fossil fuels. Jets can fly on liquid fuel made from algae. Eventually, they probably will, if we insist on it. and part of that insistence is to demand an end of subsidies to big oil and big coal. If we’re going to spend money, let’s encourage our future, not subsidize being mired in our own energy past.

    Also, for those wondering out loud, I didn’t take a year “off” and stroll the beach. I was doing my normal work throughout. And much of my work is, in fact, writing; I had entered into a commitment to deliver this book. I also lecture, do some teaching, and run a small non-profit group. Most of the scenes at Lazy Point happened in the course of my normal morning or evening walks or an hour’s kayaking. That said, i did love working on this book, even though a lot of it was quite difficult to manage. It was indeed a lot of work, but is was truly a labor of love.

    • Larry Gag

       I am honored that you have chosen this passion as your life’s work.  You deserve to “drive” to work as much as we all do.  We have all chosen our own professions, and you are not “on vacation” when doing this important work.  I am thankful that you are doing such important work in a way that touches deeply to my core.   I just heard a rebroadcast of one of your interviews for the first time and immediately ordered my first book.  Thank you for what you do. 
      Let’s all work together to do our own part in a way that touches our own souls, instead of attacking those of us who are really coming from similar places. Even “preaching to the choir” is better than bickering within the choir.

  • david gilbert

    This is the so-called 6th great mass extinction in earths history. All that remains is a salvage mission. Much has been lost, and much more will be. Overpopulation keeps truckin on, and it gets little more than occasional lip service. That is because it’s our greatest taboo. The fast rising danger is that the forces of nature will eventually cull us, and it could be very ugly, for us, for our spirit, and for this sacred rare jewel called earth.

  • Slipstream

    Good show, great guest, enjoyed listening to this articulate, serious thinker. I agreed with him on everything. But here is the rub – what DO WE DO to help reduce overpopulation, help undo legalized corruption and environmental damage? I don’t need to be convinced – Mr. Safina was preaching to the converted in my case. I wish he had told us a little more about what organizations to support, what actions to take, et cetera. I can’t afford to kayak around the world and write books about it like he does. What can us “little guys” who believe in environmentalism do to make a difference?

  • Pingback: Carl Safina – Inspiration, Science, Nature, Hope « Inspirational Blog

  • Anonymous

    My son McKenzy would love to go for a beach walk with Kenzie. Thanks you for your sacred walk on Earth.

  • http://twitter.com/bethrjacobs bethrjacobs

    Haiti was a French slave colony the French used up and destroyed
    it and the so called illiterate third world so called developing countries
    where just fine until the west destroyed their underlying  cultures 
    all the so called western education in the world won’t fix them now and
    this idiot knows it the West pollutes more than any third world country ever
    could and where “third world countries” do pollute it’s western businesses exploiting them

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/O6HMZYDNYIA3E4IICTDDBZWAJU yahoo-O6HMZYDNYIA3E4IICTDDBZWAJU

      Who is the idiot refered to in your run-on sentence?

      • DrewInGeorgia

        Carl Safina was the intended target I’m sure.

        Haiti was a French slave colony the French used up and destroyed. The so called illiterate third world and developing countries where just fine until The West destroyed their underlying cultures, all the so called western education in the world won’t fix them now. The West pollutes more than any third world country ever could and where “third world countries” do pollute it’s western businesses exploiting them.

        Now there’s a comment I could have liked.

  • JJ_in_VT

    I do my best to live a sustainable lifestyle: buy 2nd hand
    clothing, support local and sustainable farms, carpool, live off-grid, and as a
    middle school teacher, I present lessons and projects about our fragile Earth.  Unfortunately, I am still overcome by mankind’s
    ignorance and our detrimental treatment of this miraculous planet.  What can I, as an individual, do to make any
    difference?

  • JJ_in_VT

    I do my best to live a sustainable lifestyle: buy 2nd-hand
    clothing, support local and sustainable farms, carpool, live off-grid, and as a
    middle school teacher, I present lessons and projects about our fragile Earth.  Unfortunately, I am still overcome by mankind’s
    ignorance and our detrimental treatment of this miraculous planet.  What can I, as an individual, do to make any
    difference?

  • Rob Dunlavey

    Here’s a modest proposal to radically change the way we relate to Nature. Instead of going to the Arctic, the rain forest or the coral reef, spend one year studying your immediate environment (your back yard, front yard, basement, the spider on the windowsill, the starlings in the city park, the gray squirrel at the bird feeder, etc.).
    The result would be a radical reintegration of humanity and nature. Actually, the word Nature should be abolished. There is no Nature out there. It’s just Life and we are in it as much as any other life form.Once we learn the names and habits of life forms just under our noses, big shifts in everyday relations will flow in the right direction. Think Aldo Leopold or Lyanda Lynn HauptLeopold wrote “A Sand County Almanac”Lyanda Lynn Haupt has written “Crow Planet”

  • DrewInGeorgia

    Thank you for the rebroadcast, I missed the original airing and really enjoyed the show.

    The last caller and Mr. Safina’s response was brilliant. I wish there was a way to make Congress in it’s entirety and our ‘leaders’, both corporate and Governmental hear this exchange. Even more to the point, I wish there was a way to make them actually listen to it and give it serious consideration.

    Thanks again OP!

    • Capitano69

       There is Drew check out the political model in Captain69 comment once it is approved.

  • Larry Gag

    I just heard the rebroadcast of Carl Safina and I was deeply touched, because I felt that I was listening to a leader who shares the deepest inner beliefs and feelings that have been developing within my moral and living core for 45 years. His clear manner of expressing morality, spirituality, physicality and life choices,  mirrors what has developed in my soul and approach to life.   All of the problems of our economy, war, society, and planet stem from the explosive growth of one species that views its  approach to its own growth “like a caner cell.”  I would add that the cancer cells succeed in their endless growth to the point of destroying their own host.  As an aside I would ask…a literal question, outside of the parallel:  Do these cancer cells survive the burial of their human host?  What is going on with them underground in a grave yard?

  • Bruce94

    Today’s program provided a beautiful (re)statement of what reminded me of the Gaia Hypothesis:  we are all connected by a Web of interaction and interdependence by which all living things have a regulatory effect on the Earth’s environment on which the survival of all Life depends.
     
    In the face of overwhelming evidence of anthropogenic global warming, at first we are inclined to deny it in order to protect our investment (both emotional and financial) in hyper-consumerism and growth-mania.  Then, as our knowledge of AGW and other effects of man-made pollution & non-renewable resource depletion expands, we may begin to act collectively to avoid or mitigate the consequences (e.g Obama’s cap and trade proposal).

    Interestingly enough, when Romney mocked climate change during his speech last week, he received a thunderous ovation from the cretins on display at the GOP Convention.  Unlike your father’s GOP, this extremist interation of the Republican’t Party is hell bent on promoting a morally indefensible form of unregulated, rapacious capitalism.

    The society envisioned by this form of capitalism is one which we can all live as unenlightened Indviduals alienated from each other as well as Nature ignoring or discounting the “goods” and “services” provided by the environment including climate regulation, water recycling, water purification, storm water reguation, waster absorption, food & medicine production, pollination, and protection from solar radiation.

    We don’t have to look very far for some examples of what the real cost of this ignorance or hubris entails.  Just ask the residents of Plaquemines Parish in the wake of Hurricane Isaac.

    • hennorama

      Indeed, it’s a curious and glaring contradiction for a party that gives lip service to their concern for future generations to ignore perhaps the most existential threat to humankind.  Republicans spout off about “what we’re leaving for our children and grandchildren” when they refer to the Federal debt, yet they say GW is a theory or not caused by humans or needs further study.

      Romney’s mocking remark gives further voice to Ayn Rand’s tenet of The Virtue of Selfishness that permeates the Republican philosophy and policy plans.  Romney effectively says “Look out for yourself and to hell with the future.”  And Romney further emphasizes the selfish nature of the Republican Party with his choice of Rand disciple Paul Ryan as his VP candidate.

      This willful ignorance and denial of science is further embodied by having that noted female reproductive physiology expert Todd Akin on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee!

      This crass hypocrisy runs completely counter to reason and science and results in an acceleration of the destruction of our planet and our future.

  • Capitano69

    Drew is right; the  last caller hit the nail on the head but he didn’t drive it all the way into the board.

    Subsidies are one thing that would be mandatory to eliminate, but all lobbying would need to be eradicated, and term limits would need to be implemented.  But you say how can we do this with a dysfunctional congress that are all in bed together?

    The universe appears to be complicated but actually it functions on laws that are very simple; and solving our government and political corruption with the motivation of stimulating balance, health, and harmony back to nature– i.e. (LIFE) here on Planet Earth could be very simple as well.

    Here’s just one simple, yet doable way to get it done in a reasonable amount of time.

    Bear in mind that all solutions would require energy from the people and breaking out of the macro state of denial that we are all embedded in and getting involved would be necessary.

    A third party is formed by the citizens of the United States of America (with the use of the internet and  brilliant minds from all walks of life), a system of easy, efficient national communication is set up to decide and determine what the party’s top priorities for an agenda would be.

    Candidates would be hand picked by each state following the the decided National  Party agenda (note this is just the opposite of the way it’s done now–whoever has the most money runs for an elected position and the people have very little if anything to say about it) — after organization is complete, the Congressional purging would start with the very first election that is scheduled, and would continue in all elections — two year and four year, until WE THE PEOPLE HAVE CONTROL OVER OUR COUNTRY ONCE AGAIN —

    But you say how do we keep our candidates true to the cause and not allow them to get caught up in deceit and corruption?

    Because we tell each and everyone of them upfront how they are going to vote via the Party’s National and state web site that is created by those brilliant minds mentioned up above.

    Every person in the country would have access if they choose, and be provided with the opportunity  to offer positive, creative, ideas and critique and to vote on how the candidates would cast their votes in congress. Most importantly we tell the candidates right up front–YOU WILL VOTE THE WAY OF THE PEOPLE OR WE WILL VOTE YOU OUT AFTER ONE TERM!!!

    Now that we have a government that is truly by and for the people, like the Founders envisioned,  we can get to work as a culture of united people resolving and solving the important issues of our times.

    • DrewInGeorgia

      Great comment, let me know when you figure out how to make the general population act in their own best interests. There is a reason I said that our ‘leaders’ were the ones who needed this message to sink in. I know it’s cynical but short of Revolution the general population in this country won’t do anything other than continue their self-centered behavior. It’s the American Way.

      I liked your comment though and it never hurts to dream.

  • janebythesea

    we need people like THIS to be in government positions, unfortunately he has too much common sense to do that. 

    • DrewInGeorgia

      The only people who deserve to be in positions of power are the ones who have no desire to be.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jack.laurence.10 Jack Laurence

    I read the whole book The View from Lazy Point.  I loved it; and I loved rereading this excerpt.  Do yourself a favor; pick it up and read a beautifully written account of our natural world; and then do what you can to take care of this planet.

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Aug 21, 2014
In this November 2012, file photo, posted on the website freejamesfoley.org, shows American journalist James Foley while covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. In a horrifying act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the Islamic State extremist group have beheaded Foley — and are threatening to kill another hostage, U.S. officials say. (AP)

An American is beheaded. We’ll look at the ferocity of ISIS, and what to do about it.

Aug 21, 2014
Jen Joyce, a community manager for the Uber rideshare service, works on a laptop before a meeting of the Seattle City Council, Monday, March 17, 2014, at City Hall in Seattle. (AP)

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