Here is the first of six YouTube videos that relay a beautiful documentary by the Japanese broadcasting service (NHK) that recently aired on the BBC. Narrated by the great David Attenborough it looks at a particular landscape that the Japanese call “satoyama” (‘where the mountains give way to plains’). It is a gorgeous study of a pattern of human life that is harmoniously integrated with the systems and rhythms of nature. Whereas for the last 20 years people have been commenting about how we are becoming a global village, I think that the recent financial crisis coming on the back of almost a decade of internet connectivity has moved us beyond the metaphor of a village to a much more delicate interconnectivity. As our social networks get mapped through Facebook and ideas and observations are shared instantly through Twitter, I think of us sharing a common nervous system rather than a village. And this awareness that we are each so interdependent on one another opens a door of humility that also allows us to consider the other systems that we are dependent on, nature herself of course being the most ignored and the most urgent. I was quite touched by the value of ‘stewardship’ that was apparent from the outset in this documentary, for example you see a bird of prey taking a fish that the local fisherman had left out for it. This was a value that my grandfather taught me as a child but one that I feel is quite alien to to the culture and mentality in which I have spent my adult years. In thinking about this value of stewardship it is easy to get lofty and metaphysical but there is also something very tangible and matter-of-fact about it. In some way the value is like when a man opens a door for a woman, it doesn’t really matter who the woman is, a man does it because of his own concept of honor. Similarly, a man must protect the environment, as he must anyone who needs protection, because his honor requires it. There is just no other way.
Yesterday, the United States Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced the top 10 bills of the new session of Congress. Among them is the bill below, the Cleaner, Greener and Smarter Act of 2009. The purpose of the bill is to improve the economy and the security of the United States by reducing the dependence of the US on foreign and unsustainable energy sources and the risks of global warming by;
- encouraging significant investment in green job creation and clean energy
- diversifying and rapidly expanding the use of efficient and environmentally-friendly energy supplies and technologies
- modernizing the transmission grid and electrifying the transportation infrastructure
- reducing the emission of greenhouse gases in the US and abroad
- providing enhanced energy efficiency standards and incentives
- eliminating unnecessary tax breaks that fail to move the US towards a cleaner future
At present this bill is just a placeholder and so, as you can see from the current language, it merely contains general statements of purpose. This bill is of immense importance, not just to the United States but to life on this planet. If the politicians live up to their responsibility, this bill will lead the United States, and by effect the rest of the world, to a new stage of economic development based on renewable energy. To date, the history of the human race has been that of economic growth coupled with an often violent struggle for limited resources and unconscionable environmental degradation. This Faustian pact will become all the more lethal as the franchise of economic development expands to include several billion new consumers. I believe that this bill has the capacity to save the lives of millions by securing new energy supplies that will obviate the likelihood of future resource wars. It has the potential to fundamentally change the way we live on this planet and beyond. It is of immense longterm significance to the human family. Given the short-term incentives of our political structure, and the influence of incumbent businesses on the US political machine, it is unlikely that this bill will realize that potential. However, it is our best opportunity to effect change in the right direction. We the people, must keep a steely focus on the passage of this bill through Congress. We must ensure, by an intense predisposition to outrage, that this bill, the hope of the world, does not become a whore to conspiracy, compromise and concession. This is why I supported the Presidential campaign of Barack Obama. Now is the hour.
This video contains the conclusion of David Attenborough’s exploration of life on our planet in his ground-breaking documentary The Living Planet. In this short clip, David, (in my opinion one of the great human beings alive today), describes the three fundamental pillars of a plan developed by environmental scientists to preserve our planet. This plan is known as the World Conservation Strategy and it’s three pillars as follows:
- That we shouldn’t so exploit natural resources that we destroy them.
- That we shouldn’t interfere with the basic processes of the earth on which all life depends, in either the air, the ground or the sea.
- That we should preserve the diversity of life on earth.
For some reason I woke up this morning with a question on my mind; why have I become such an environmentalist in the last few years? I have always leaned that way but of late I have graduated from thinking it desirable to feeling that protecting the environment and securing alternative energy is vital, necessary, urgent. So far I have come up with 7 reasons:
- our technological ability has changed such that we no longer have to choose between a tree and staying warm, between clean air and economic growth -we can now have both
- September 11th and the failure of the Bush Administration and the entire political establishment to responsibly lead the United States and the world out of, as opposed to into, the minefield. When George Bush was elected to a second term, I felt that the political process had now become moribund and that it was up to the people to lead themselves through entrepreneurial initiatives aimed at finding a new source of energy.
- a greater appreciation for the beauty and mortality of life; most likely I will be dead in 60-70 years and some day the tectonic plates beneath the earth will stop moving – everything on the planet will at that point die; scarcity produces value, in the market and the soul.
- the rise of China specifically (a) the voraciousness of its appetite (it could just as easily be any other developing country) for energy and raw materials and (b) the need to prevent future resource wars by discovering a more plentiful supply of energy as soon as possible. Related to this idea is a greater appreciation of the herd mentality, captured rather efficiently in the phrase “more is different” – each individual can accept the need for environmental protection but as a crowd we behave like locusts (see Hillsborough disaster). Conservation is a 2% solution – alternative energy must be found.
- a feeling of responsibility that, as the supposedly most intelligent species, we have a custodial duty for the earth; I don’t know where this comes from, a remnant of some religious foundation, an emotional reaction engendered in childhood, a delusion of one’s own self-importance? I think this feeling may be related to my sense of justice which often makes me, and others, empathize with and seek to defend the underdog, the David versus the Goliath. The animals and plants of this world live now at our whim – knowing us, that makes me wish to protect them.
- a belief in civilization; I am willing to commit myself to the goal of greater human civilization which for me means (a) the eradication of violence, (b) the pursuit of science, art and education, (c) a government of the people, for the people and by the people, (d) economic growth, dignity and security for all and (e) social, economic and environmental justice. The discovery of renewable energy supports each of these goals by lowering the likelihood of future resource wars, encouraging human ingenuity and creativity, weakening the power of single-source energy producers on civil government and uncoupling economic, social and environmental growth from the price of oil and fossil fuels.