Dancing Star Foundation President Michael Charles Tobias, in a Discussion About the Fate of the Earth

Holland, Geoffrey, Tobias, Michael Charles | June 9, 2015 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

Egyptian Vulture on the Island of Socotra, Yemen © M.C. Tobias

Geoffrey Holland – I share your skepticism about the future of humanity.  It appears we are on a course that will result in a catastrophic alteration of our biosphere, and a great deal of human suffering.  On the other hand, there are signs of hope. Energy, the primary driver of human advancement, is on an accelerating green trajectory. Clean, renewable energy sources, particularly solar PV and wind, are already cheaper in many places than fossil fuels or nuclear power. Many who study global trends see the world running almost entirely on clean, renewables by as soon as 2050.  That translates to less warming stress on our atmosphere, icecaps, and oceans. Good news, yes, but there is the matter of the still growing human population, which is currently 7.3 billion, on the way to 11 or 12 billion. That simply doesn’t compute. We are already overstressing the planet’s shrinking resources, driving a rapid collapse of the planet’s biodiversity. You always point to biodiversity as the loss that cannot be redeemed. Why is habitat loss and species extinction bad for the planet, and bad for humanity?

Michael Tobias – As you know, the 48th Session of the United Nations Population Commission was unable, for the first time in 20 years, to adopt any concluding resolution. This was first described as a last minute procedural ‘Anomaly’, but it may go much deeper than that. I suspect it concerns the vast, unmanageable array of ‘wish lists’, a welter of wildfires amid too many imperatives, and a world of complexities – with 237,211 new people to feed every day, 180 per minute, nearly 82 million more per year –  (  http://www.populationmedia.org/issue/population/ )

Indeed, this is the penultimate enshrining of the famed I=PAT equation x The Tragedy of the Commons.

In other words, a biological calamity that has few anodynes beyond the basic human rights doctrines, which are not even universally adhered to, as radicalized groups like ISIS and Boko Haram have to our horror, more than proved. We are a mixed species, a decidedly schizophrenic species, and this attends upon every collective decision. In other words, our doom is decreed by the masses, whereas our liberation appears destined to emerge from individualism.

Since the time of Pericles of Athens there has never been a more contradictory political crisis than that currently at large amongst our kin: we cannot even agree on the word “genocide,” or “cruelty” or “animal” or “evolution.”  We are utterly and ecologically illiterate, and the lack of contact with nature is spreading.

Meanwhile, nearly 50% of all nations remain above a Total Fertility Rate of 3 children per couple. This is insanity. Why? Because at that rate, we will likely exceed ten billion by the end of this century. We might even hit 12, even 13 billion.  There will, of course, be demographers who say, “Nonsense!  All the signs suggest stabilization at 9.5 billion.” But they don’t. There is no one who can, with a sane mind, conclude that we are shrinking in numbers. When, in the early 1990s I finished writing my book and preparing the film adaptation of World War III, we were adding well over 92 million per year. We have come down by ten million, and that is good news. But we are not even close to the stabilization quotient, which would be no children per couple for at least two generations, then one per couple for two generations, or there about. That is the elixir for limiting our unabashed and dreadful impact on habitat.

You ask why habitat loss and species extinction matters? Which is like, in my mind, the equivalent of wondering whether or not we should care about Hitler or Stalin. Their evil doing is all part of the evolutionary game plan: that whatever people do is okay because it somehow fits in God’s greater picture; or, from even the atheist position, that this vast and tragic loss of biodiversity might somehow be viewed as a mechanical kind of necessity within the overall productivity – millennium after millennium – of the biosphere.

But that is sheer lunacy. We know from clear and abundant data that every species is a link in a vulnerable chain of being; that each individual is equally critical to that chain. While we might not be prone to believe that very individual counts, we know from experience this to be false; that every individual is equal to every other individual. That the loss of one child matters, not just to the child, but to those left behind.

And it is no different with every other child of every species, and if readers might find that a tad sentimentalist, let them. It was Albert Schweitzer who regarded sentimentality as one of the most crucial ingredients of human nature. Should we lose the ability to shed a tear, to be euphoric over beauty, to celebrate nature, art, and our convictions, then we will perish, and so will other species – given our albeit ungainly but critical role, these days, as stewards of Creation. And, not to repeat the broken record, should we go on to lose pollinators, and all of the nurseries on earth – the rainforests and wetlands, etc., then we will lose our lives to the stupidity of human indifference. I know no one who can survive without food, or water, or air for a week, let alone an hour (in the case of air). And so I must conclude that those who advocate for blind progress are simply, tragically uneducated idiots; village idiots in search of a village.

Without biodiversity, we do not exist. Without habitat, biodiversity does not exist, the Earth as we know it does not exist. End of story… Read more.

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The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.

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  • Dr. Ehrlich,
    I sincerely appreciate your comment. In my opinion it continues to defy the brain’s gravity that there are still so many population baiters among those who should know better. Curiously, “Dr. Phil” apparently is quoted as defining baiters: (https://www.oprah.com/…/Oprahs-Lifeclass-Daily-Life-W…Keeping in mind how Dr. Phil defines BAITERs—Backstabbers, Abusers, Imposters, Takers, Exploiters, Reckless…)
    I think the key here is the fact our species requires probably two to three generations of zero population growth worldwide just to regain some kind of demographic compass and thereby gauge our options from a point of relative stability – to whatever extent – as we look at the most pressing challenge in human documented history: that of feeding, and providing safe drinking water for a 9.5-to-11 or 12 billion “confederacy” (to borrow your apt word) of ungainly, largely carnivorous Homo sapiens with footprints far in excess of Jurassic World – it is the human world of which we speak; those who are, willy-nilly, fast weakening this precious biosphere. You have been putting this message out there scientifically, philosophically, and in every possible manner, with heroism and consistently appropriate projections, for your entire career and we are in your debt (and that of your partner, Dr. Anne Ehrlich).

    Michael Charles Tobias

  • Paul Ehrlich

    It’s a pleasure to see population given its proper place in this fine discussion, especially since the silly dismissal of the problem engineered by a confederacy of dunces at the New York Times recently. For example, it did not mention the threat of climate disruption, tightly tied to population growth. The author seemed not to realizethat the more people there are, the more greenhouse gases are injected into the atmosphere — and the additions are disproportionately large. And the writers seem to have missed the fact that over 800 million people are hungry today and perhaps two billion seriously micronutrient malnourished. No food problem as predicted by the POPULATION BOMB? Sad that the NYT continues on its efforts, typified by its crusade to get the U.S. to invade Iraq, to end the world. The only saving grace was a hysterically funny bit in an accompanying video by an apparently senile technotwit.

  • Thank you Zoe. Of course, your work at the Institute for Humane Education is one of the central pillars for making our compassionate future a reality. Could you please outline in, say, half dozen steps, the key curricular essentials of compassion for students, not just K-12, but University students whose hearts and minds are aspiring to quite literally save the biosphere? What are your concrete recommendations, succinctly put, for them, and for their professors? And then, after they graduate?

    Thanks for your comment, Zoe, and keep up the great work that you and your colleagues have been engaged with for decades.

    Michael

  • Zoe Weil

    As always, Michael’s words are brilliant – sobering, yes, but with the hope and vision for real shifts. My personal belief – and that of our organization, the Institute for Humane Education http://www.HumaneEducation.org – is that the fundamental system underlying all others is education. Michael rightly points to the possibility for change arising among youth. While we put out the fires, we must address what we teach young people who must be educated to be solutionaries for a just, peaceful and regenerative world if we and other life forms are to survive and thrive into the future.

  • Jane

    Interesting discussion on Scott Aaronson’s blog :

    http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/

    I’m trying spread the MAHB message

  • Economic contraction is probably the most likely way that we can minimize damage to the environment. I don’t mean deliberately causing contraction, what I mean is that contraction is inevitable, because of peak oil and our inability to fuel sustained economic growth with renewables. The biggest global decrease in the use of fossil fuels came after the 2008 financial crash. When society can no longer afford to extract huge quantities of fossil fuels the damage that we can do will be much less. It takes a lot longer to cut down a forest without fossil fuels. Also population is likely to trend downwards with decreasing use of fossil fuels.

    The biggest human problem will be the social and political blowback from economic contraction. Remember WWII. This is what we need to prepare for.

  • FreedomDanK

    Dusan Kustudic G7 leaders talk on solving environmental problems by the year 2100 !!?? Aren’t they aware that right NOW , in this decade , oceans are polluted , starving millions are over-exploited , scrambling to escape their overcrowded war torn homelands, ice-caps and glaciers are melting , thousands of species of plants and animals are vanishing, and these IDIOTS want to wait 85 YEARS to accomplish some improvement !? They ( rich maniacs ) live in a monetary BUBBLE ,and we, the concerned global citizens need to find a way of SHAKING them up from their stupid dreams and demand an URGENT redirecting of all human efforts to save Earth’s biosphere NOW !! People like Bernie Sanders , Maude Barlow and many intelligent people close to the position of POWER , need to be given a chance to correct the stupidity of the Growth Economy – and replace it with a long term sustainable Steady State Economy; Dusan Kustudic

    • Thank you for commenting. Much appreciated. Please list, if you have the patience to do so, say a dozen concrete recommendations for Bernie Sanders and his advisers, that have real ecological traction in the public commons; urgent priorities that a Sanders-For-President campaign could potentially embrace, and – by implication – would have a halo effect on other candidates, so that they all realize they cannot shirk the ecological implications of every word they utter, and every near policy they are likely to promulgate.

      Thanks again.

  • johnmerryman

    A significant issue goes to the nature of money and our assumptions built into it. As a medium of exchange, we have come to treat it as a commodity, of which the primary impulse is to accumulate as much as possible, but the reality is that it functions as voucher and bookkeeping system and that such excess obligations only degrade the system.
    The consequence of this difference is that we have an economy geared toward the production of this notational capital, at the expense of all other functions.
    As such, we have become largely socially atomized individuals and only interact in terms dictated by capital flows. This effect has therefore hollowed out all the organic forms of trust, reciprocity and obligation that binds any community together.
    The strength of this global financial system is that it enables this global economy that is running rampantly through the earth’s resources and the irony of the current situation is that in order to sustain the growth of capital to support the obligations on which it is based, now that natural resources are less available, the system is cannibalizing the very industrial process that it gives rise too. Essentially the bankers are monkey wrenching the economy, by siphoning off the notational value that sustains it.
    In the not too distant future, this Ponzi scheme is going to reach the end of its rope and significant parts of the economy will come grinding to a halt.
    At that point, we should begin to examine how this process works and understand wealth is not notes in a bank, but strong communities and environments and that taking value out of our social relations and environment in order to acquire these notes mostly serves those managing the system. So in order to make it function stably, we need to understand money is a public utility and medium and when it is created by issuing public debt, the profits from its benefits have to flow directly back to the public. This would return functions such as child and elder care, public infrastructure projects, etc, to the organic actions of the community in question, as they were throughout history.
    This would mean a bottom up system of community banks that returned value to those directly generating it, then regional and national banks to function on higher levels.
    The result will be a slower and more grounded economy, but the alternative is just another tidal wave of economic activity, followed by an equally severe trough afterwards.

    • Interesting. Could you more precisely spell out your reflections concerning a “bottom up system of community banks”?
      That would be illuminating for this conversation.
      Thanks for taking the time to think about this.

      • johnmerryman

        Michael,

        The best source on this would be Ellen Brown and the Public Banking Institute;

        http://www.publicbankinginstitute.org

        I also think the nature of money needs to be examined.
        For one thing, banks used to be responsible for issuing and maintaining their own currencies, especially in small communities, but with the Federal Reserve System, money is essentially backed by public debt. Which, as was evident in 2008, makes the responsibility for the value of the money a public responsibility, yet the private banking system still gets most of the rewards.
        The consequence is that large amounts of surplus wealth builds up in private hands, that has no other use than to be loaned back to the public. Which is not a stable system, as it requires ever more public debt.
        So either we go back to a fully private system where private banks issue their own currency, or we move forward to a fully public system, where the banks are also a public utility.
        It could be bottom up, with local banks investing back into the communities which created and stored the value in them. Then have state and a national bank to serve larger interests, while the layer beneath them serve as shareholders in the larger system.
        Occasionally the deficit gets thrown around as a political football, mostly by the right. As it would seem a naturally conservative impulse, but it would never happen, because it would freeze up the process of manufacturing capital to keep the system running, when so much is being drained off into supposed savings, that mostly amount to public loans that will never be paid off completely, but just have new debt issued to cover them.
        Consider that to budget means ordering one’s priorities and spending according to ability, but how the government writes their budget is as enormous bills, then add enough “pork” to get enough votes and the president can only pass or veto it.
        Now back in the late 80’s GHW Bush made some fuss about the “line item veto,” which would never pass because it would take a lot of responsibility away from congress.
        If they really wanted to budget, they could break these bills into all their various items, have every legislator assign a percentage value to each one, then reassemble them in order of preference and have the president draw the line. To quote Truman, in a slightly different context, “The buck stops here.”
        This would spread responsibility around congress more and there would be little incentive for the president to spend much more than necessary, as those items down the list would have less interest.
        It isn’t going to happen in the current situation, because the banking system would freeze up.
        Basically money functions as a public medium, like a road system. We all own our cars, businesses and house, but not the roads connecting them and no one cries socialism over that. Yet if you were to argue money is just such a public utility, everyone would flip out. If someone really thinks money is private property, they should just try running some off on the copy machine and see if the copyrights are enforced. We own the money in our pockets, like we possess the section of road we travel on. It’s just in the interest of those controlling this system to have us think it is private property, so that we will desire it all the more and respect the property rights of those who pile up enormous amounts of it.
        Now if we were to understand that money is not a commodity that we treat as quantified hope, but understand it is a bookkeeping voucher system and that excess notes are detrimental to the system and that if any part of the economy found itself underserved, it could either start its own system, or petition another system to join and issue sufficient notes necessary, then there would be a general understanding that hoarding these notes is unproductive and would be taxed accordingly. Then people would begin to understand there are multiple mediums of change and not just one global system and value would slow down somewhat and sink into making stronger social ties and healthier environments and create those bonds that naturally make a community and not have every relationship cash based. Especially since people will understand that while money might facilitate a broader economy, it also facilitates wealth extraction by those running it.
        The result will be a tougher lifestyle than many people today are used to, but there would also be rewards as well. We are headed for a wall and it will play out in some fashion, so we do need to understand what makes a functioning society and not just those who can, retreat behind walls and guns, with many people scavenging what they will.

        • very interesting discussion thanks

  • The many attributes added during our evolution played an important
    role as we humans evolved and then spread throughout the planet. Yet our perspective remained limited; first to the family, then to the tribe and then the nation state. There it remains; self-contained in language, tribe,
    religious and national historical tradition, each attribute like a coiled snake in its nest ready to strike those outside if challenged.This must come an end. The need is urgent. All of human society must face a change in the way it thinks. The challenge is far reaching as it will it will entail a reexamination of the validity of eight thousand years of social, political, religious and economic thought and the institutions that arose from that thought, separating out those originating presuppositions believed to be “inherent truths” we are now discovering were built on non-sustainable ecological flaws.

    http://inquiryabraham.com/new-book.html