Category Archives: Evolution

Survival of the Nicest: The Other Theory of Evolution

97p/29/doey/7601/dr04/dr04x22A century ago, industrialists like Andrew Carnegie believed that Darwin’s theories justified an economy of vicious competition and inequality. They left us with an ideological legacy that says the corporate economy, in which wealth concentrates in the hands of a few, produces the best for humanity. This was always a distortion of Darwin’s ideas. His 1871 book The Descent of Man argued that the human species had succeeded because of traits like sharing and compassion. “Those communities,” he wrote, “which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.” Darwin was no economist, but wealth-sharing and cooperation have always looked more consistent with his observations about human survival than the elitism and hierarchy that dominates contemporary corporate life.

via Survival of the Nicest: The Other Theory of Evolution.

The Myth of Scarcity and Conclusion

The following is an excerpt (and rough draft) of a chapter I’m working on about sustainability. I have a limit of 2000-4000 words. As usual I’m trying to cram as much as possible into that limit. Much of this rehashes (and in some cases pillages) other writing I’ve done on the blog, but hopefully the synthesis brings out something new. I will be posting excerpts here for feedback and your reading pleasure as they are finished. My working title is “Why Recycling Doesn’t Matter”.

We have successfully segregated many disciplines and fields of study from each other. One of the most glaring cases of this is the division between environmentalism and economics. Politicians of various stripes can often be heard claiming that protecting the environment will cost jobs and hurt the economy. Those who argue for environmental regulation also buy into this myth by trying to argue that it will not hurt jobs, but potentially fuel a green technology revolution spurring economic growth. Both sides continue to base their arguments on the unquestioned belief in the necessity of economic growth. E.F. Schumacher explains this well,

“From an economic point of view, the central concept of wisdom is permanence… Nothing makes economic sense unless its continuance for a long time can be projected without running into absurdities. There can be ‘growth’ towards a limited objective, but there cannot be unlimited, generalised growth…The cultivation and expansion of needs is the antithesis of wisdom.”[1]

“The cultivation and expansion of needs” is at the very heart of our consumer economy. Advertisers and marketers are paid large sums of money in order to convince us that we “need” the products of the companies they represent. The problem of sustainability can be summed up as the modern confusion of the difference between “needs” and “wants.” Continue reading

The Myth of Technological Salvation

The following is an excerpt (and rough draft) of a chapter I’m working on about sustainability. I have a limit of 2000-4000 words. As usual I’m trying to cram as much as possible into that limit. Much of this rehashes (and in some cases pillages) other writing I’ve done on the blog, but hopefully the synthesis brings out something new. I will be posting excerpts here for feedback and your reading pleasure as they are finished. My working title is “Why Recycling Doesn’t Matter”.

If agriculture had been the only discovery that attempted to “free” us from nature, we as a species would have quickly run into the same problem as any other species which overruns its ecosystem. We would have destroyed the very things upon which we depend. More likely, we would have been forced to find a balance between the agriculture required to support settled human populations and the needs of the ecosystem to maintain wild game, domesticated livestock, topsoil and fertility.

What made it possible to temporarily overcome the limitations of ecosystems once more was the discovery of abundant hydrocarbons in the form of fossil fuels. This discovery mad possible innovations which powered automobiles and factories. Today the fingerprints of oil are everywhere. If a product has plastic in it, it is dependent on oil. The electricity that power our light bulbs and devices as well as what drives our vehicles, transports our products and mows our lawn are dependent on oil. Oil permeates our modern life. The process to create petroleum takes millions of years, yet our consumption of fossil fuels continues at a rate well beyond any possibility for renewal. The use of fossil fuels as the primary source of energy which makes our current global civilization possible is the very definition of unsustainable. Continue reading

The Myth of Control

The following is an excerpt (and rough draft) of a chapter I’m working on about sustainability. I have a limit of 2000-4000 words. As usual I’m trying to cram as much as possible into that limit. Much of this rehashes (and in some cases pillages) other writing I’ve done on the blog, but hopefully the synthesis brings out something new. I will be posting excerpts here for feedback and your reading pleasure as they are finished. My working title is “Why Recycling Doesn’t Matter”.

One of the things that distinguishes homo sapiens from other species is the degree to which we are able to manipulate our environment. Other species also manipulate their environment. Beavers build dams. Birds build nests. However, beavers and birds are not capable of destroying the ecosystem on which they depend. There are cases where a species overruns their ecosystem. For example, when natural predators are absent a species might become overpopulated and eventually deplete their food source. The difference is that in the case of non-human species they quickly find themselves subject to the laws which govern ecosystems and face disastrous results with massive die-offs and possibly extinction. In other words, non-human species have a limited ability to manipulate their environment and generally are subject to the restraints that make healthy ecosystems function properly with give and take between species and a balance between predator and prey, plants, fungi, animals, bacteria, etc. Continue reading

The Myth of Human Difference

The following is an excerpt (and rough draft) of a chapter I’m working on about sustainability. I have a limit of 2000-4000 words. As usual I’m trying to cram as much as possible into that limit. Much of this rehashes (and in some cases pillages) other writing I’ve done on the blog, but hopefully the synthesis brings out something new. I will be posting excerpts here for feedback and your reading pleasure as they are finished. My working title is “Why Recycling Doesn’t Matter”.

Sustainability is one of those words in our culture that have been so thoroughly abused as to almost lose all meaning. Like the words “green”, “organic”, “natural” or “eco-”, sustainable is often appended to a wide variety of terms such as “sustainable growth”, “sustainable development”, “sustainable design”, “sustainable travel”, “sustainable style” or even “sustainable websites”. This is particularly unfortunate as it is one of the words we most desperately need to understand, if we hope to have a viable future for the continuation of our species. Sustainability, most simply, is the state in which a process or system is able to continue indefinitely without depleting the resources on which the system or process depends.

Many of our problems related to sustainability stem from some basic assumptions about who we are as human beings and how we relate to the non-human world. Most of us in the Western world have been enculturated into some powerful myths that continue to prevent us from understanding sustainability and our place in the world. The myth of human difference, the myth of control, the myth of technological salvation and the myth of scarcity all conspire to keep us committed to a framework that has set us on a trajectory toward ecological disaster. In this chapter we will explore these myths and their impact on how we think about sustainability, who we are as human beings and how we relate to the non-human world. Continue reading