Real Security: Taking Care of Our EcoSystems
A Book Review by Mac Lawrence
"The environment is not part of the economy, as many corporate planners and economists believe, but instead, the economy is part of the environment."
Lester R. Brown's new book, Plan B Rescuing a Planet under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, threw two switches in my brain. First, I see the news about terrorism, politics, war, economics, visits to Mars, unemployment—pretty much everything—from a new perspective. Though many things are threats today, all of them take second place compared to the health of the environment we all live in.
Second, no matter how extreme the problems humans face on this planet, solutions do exist. But time is very, very short.
Lester Brown is an old hand at world watching—keeping track of environmental systems around the globe. In an earlier book, Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth, he argued that "The environment is not part of the economy, as many corporate planners and economists believe, but instead the economy is part of the environment." Accordingly, Brown said, "the economy must be designed so that it is compatible with the ecosystem of which it is a part."
Eco-Economy, named by one review source as one of the world's top ten books in 2001, is available in 18 languages. Famed biologist E.O. Wilson called it "an instant classic."
In his new book, Plan B, Brown emphasizes that this restructuring of the economy "needs to be done at wartime speed." Plan A—continuing to overconsume the Earth's natural capital-is no longer a viable option. "We have created a bubble economy" which will soon burst unless we switch to Plan B—"a worldwide mobilization to stabilize population and climate before these issues spiral out of control."
In the first half of the book, headed "Civilization in Trouble," Brown gives the bad news. Our bubble economy is clearly unsustainable. We're no longer living on "interest" from the Earth's natural endowment; we're using up both the interest and the endowment. And it's happening all over the world.
Happily, the good news in the second half of the book, headed "The Response—Plan B," is that "almost everything we need to do to build the new economy is now being done by one or more countries in the world."
Brown notes that while world population has doubled in the last half-century, the global economy has expanded sevenfold. We're cutting down trees faster than they can grow, overgrazing rangelands and converting them into deserts, overpumping aquifers, and draining rivers dry. Soil erosion exceeds soil formation. Oceans are overfished. We're putting more CO2 into the atmosphere than nature can absorb, causing temperatures to rise and negatively impacting the world's food supply.
THE FOOD BUBBLE: MISMANAGING LAND AND WATER
Brown believes the first bubble in danger of bursting is food. When the high-tech stock bubble burst in 2000, or Japan's real estate bubble burst in 1989, only a few countries were impacted. "When the food bubble economy—inflated by the over-pumping of aquifers—bursts, it will raise food prices worldwide.
"Population growth and rising incomes together have tripled world grain demand over the last half-century....To satisfy this swelling demand, farmers have plowed land that was highly erodible—land that was too dry or too steeply sloping to sustain cultivation. As a result, billions of tons of top-soil are blown away annually in dust storms or washed away in rainstorms, leaving farmers to try to feed some 70 million additional people each year, but with less topsoil than the year before."
In addition to topsoil loss, now farmers are facing two challenges for the first time in history: rising temperatures and falling water tables. When temperatures are too high, plants are dehydrated, seed fertilization is impaired, crop yields fall. Before the advent of powerful diesel and electric pumps, notes Brown, "it was almost impossible historically to deplete aquifers." Now "water tables have fallen in scores of countries, including China, India, and the United States, which together produce nearly half of the world's grain....Northern China (which accounts for a fourth or more of China's grain harvest) is literally drying out."
Desertification-the process of converting productive land into wasteland through overuse and mismanagement-is common in Asia and Africa. Brown describes the problems in countries like Algeria, Nigeria, Kenya, and Iran, but says the problem is particularly critical in China. "China is now at war. It is not invading armies that are claiming its territories, but expanding deserts." The principal culprit is overgrazing by China's 100 million cattle and 300 million sheep, helping create "a dust bowl of historic dimensions. The strong winds of late winter and early spring can remove literally millions of tons of topsoil in a single day-soil that can take centuries to replace." One storm in 1993 in China's Gansu Province turned the daytime sky dark, killed 49 people, destroyed 450,000 acres of standing crops, damaged 40,000 trees, and killed 6,700 cattle and sheep. The dust storms cause havoc not only in eastern Chinese cities, such as Beijing, but in South Korea and Japan, and have even crossed the Pacific to deposit dust in the western U.S.
Other chapters in the "bad news" half of the book discuss climate change and its potential disasters, HIV, poverty, hunger, disease, global warming, the high cost of illiteracy, destruction of rain-forests, and forced migrations of people due to environmental crises.
PLAN B: SOLUTIONS THAT WORK
"Water pricing policies today are remnants of another age, a time when water was abundant," says Brown. The new approach to water policy is not big dams and more wells, but using water more productively. Various countries have raised the cost of water, or installed meters on water wells. South Africa allots each household a certain amount of water at a low cost; their rate increases if they use more.
Irrigation can be more efficient by using low-pressure sprinklers and drip systems, an approach gaining in use throughout the world. Another method is to restrict the growing of water-thirsty crops like rice. In India, a program helps villagers build local storage dams to harvest rain-water. Cities can recycle water. Consumers can switch to more water-efficient appliances. Too much water is used in getting rid of wastes in industry and in the home; both areas are open to innovation.
RAISING PROTEIN EFFICIENCY
Today billions of people around the world with rising lifestyles are demanding more animal protein in their diets. With the seas overfished and rangelands overgrazed, "the world has shifted to grain-based production of animal protein to expand output," notes Brown, putting greater pressure on croplands. One result is that pork production is up worldwide since it takes only about half as much grain to produce a pound of pork as it does to produce a pound of beef. Also up worldwide is the production of poultry, an even more efficient method of converting grain into protein.
But fish are by far the most efficient protein converters. Aquaculture is growing by 10 percent a year, dominated by carp in China and India, catfish in the U.S., tilapia in several countries, and shellfish. "China," says Brown, "has evolved a remarkably efficient fish polyculture using four types of carp that feed at different levels of the food chain, emulating natural aquatic systems." Fortunately the aquacultural farming of salmon and shrimp, which is environmentally disruptive, makes up less than 5 percent of the world's production, adds Brown.
Another way to cut down on the use of grain is popular with small farmers in India. Rather than being burned, crop residues are fed to ruminants. The program is so successful that milk from cattle and water buffalo is now India's most valuable farm product.
SOLVING OTHER PROBLEMS
In Plan B, Brown emphasizes the need to reduce the rate soil is lost, and cites a number of countries engaged in reforestation, flood control, and water storage. Minimum-till and no-till practices are being used more and more in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Europe, Africa, and Asia. As models for other countries, Brown cites the U.S., which has reduced soil erosion by nearly 40 percent in less than two decades, and South Korea, where once denuded mountainsides and hills are now covered with trees.
Brown believes carbon emissions must and can be cut in half. Companies are not only showing how to reduce carbon emissions, but how to make money doing it. Energy use can be cut significantly with better appliances, compact fluorescent bulbs (20 percent of the electricity the U.S. uses is for lighting), use of tax credits and energy codes, hybrid cars, and public transportation.
Brown sees wind turbines, solar, and fuel cells as bridges to a hydrogen economy, and geothermal as an under-used resource. Wind energy is particularly applicable today. Notes Brown, "It is abundant, inexhaustible, cheap, widely distributed, climate-benign, and clean." At prime sites, wind power now costs less than 4 cents per kilowatt-hour, making it competitive with coal and gas, and well below the cost of nuclear.
Electricity from the wind can also be used to electrolyze water, producing hydrogen which can be shipped and stored for future use.
In the chapter "Responding to the Social Challenge," Brown focuses on stabilizing the world's population at 7.5 billion or so. Japan and many countries in Europe show a decline in population; others, like the U.S. and China are headed for population stability. But countries like Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and India are projected to double their populations in the next 50 years, adding as many as 3 billion people. Using Iran as an example, Brown notes how rapidly a high population growth rate can be reduced in little more than a decade with an aggressive national policy of family planning.
The shift to smaller families (and better health) will take education at all levels. The more education women have, the fewer children they bear; the more educated a society is, the healthier it is.
It's critical that we have an immediate restructuring of the economy, Brown says. While acknowledging that the market "is an incredible institution with some remarkable strengths," in its present form it does not account for ecological costs. In the future, Brown notes, the market must incorporate into prices the indirect costs of providing services; value nature's services properly; and respect "the sustainable-yield thresholds of natural systems such as fisheries, forests, rangelands, and aquifers."
We need eco-cost analyses for a gallon of gasoline, a ton of coal, and the external cost of an automobile. "Once we calculate all the costs of a product or service, we can incorporate them into market prices by restructuring taxes," says Brown, and quotes former Exxon vice-president Oystein Dahle: "Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth."
Brown concludes his book: "The choice is ours—yours and mine. We can stay with business as usual and preside over a global bubble economy that keeps expanding until it bursts, leading to economic decline. Or we can adopt Plan B and be the generation that stabilizes population, eradicates poverty, and stabilizes climate. Historians will record the choice, but it is ours to make."
A FEW FACTS FROM LESTER BROWN'S BOOK
Affluent societies, where grain is consumed in the form of livestock products, require twice as much water to produce their food as do societies with crop-based diets.
For every five cars added to the U.S. fleet, an area the size of a football field-usually cropland-is covered with asphalt. The paved roads in the U.S. could circle the equator 157 times.
For $62 billion (less than the supplemental U.S. cost this year for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) basic social goals could be met for the 88 developing countries around the world that require help.
If China were to have one car for every two people (as does Japan), it would have 640 million cars, versus 13 million today.
In western Yemen, the annual recharge of water is 42 million tons; the amount extracted annually is 224 million tons.
Iran is overpumping its aquifers by 5 billion tons a year.
In parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas-three leading grain-producing states-the underground water table has fallen more than 100 feet, leaving wells dry on thousands of farms in the southern Great Plains.
In some areas of Saudi Arabia, farmers are pumping water from 4,000-foot wells; half of the country's estimated fossil water has disappeared.
Plan B: Rescuing a Planet under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble by Lester R. Brown W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2003. $15.95
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Beyond the Bottom Line
Book Review by Joe Kresse
One of the areas Lester Brown notes in his book, Plan B (see previous article), that needs to be addressed is the marketplace. As we have said several times in these pages, business, in the form of transnational corporations, is the most powerful institution on Earth.
In the following book review of The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy by William Greider and in the accompanying editorial, Joe Kresse, a former executive in the financial field and currently coordinator of the Foundation's Business and Sustainability Group, covers the history of corporations, some corporate practices that are not helpful in today's world, and some of the changes that are now being made in the corporate world that are in line with a more realistic worldview.
William Greider has been an observer and reporter of the Washington scene for four decades. In past books he has written about American politics and about the inner workings of our Federal Reserve System. This time—and his timing couldn't be better, given the recent spate of corporate malfeasance, the dotcom bust, and the shipping of millions of jobs offshore—he examines our capitalist system. Greider writes about "how the greatest wealth creation engine in the history of the world is failing most of us, why it must be changed, and how intrepid pioneers are beginning to reform it."
His premise is that there has been a major societal change: "The economic order has lost one of its basic suppositions: the motivating fear of scarcity and deprivation." And while this fear may still be active in the public consciousness and in politics, studies show a steady decline over the past 50 years in the percentage of income spent on necessities (food, shelter, clothing, etc.) across all levels of our society. More and more of our income is spent on what once were considered to be luxuries, but which now are seen as needed to "keep up" with others. However, this societal change has not been reflected in our economic system.
This situation calls forth some serious questions about our capitalist system: "What now justifies the harsh personal sacrifices imposed on people's lives in the name of sustaining abundance? Why does the capitalist process continue to defend or ignore its many forms of social injury— especially the ecological destruction—when the pursuit of accumulation is no longer a matter of human survival but more often an elaboration of surplus? If we have met our basic needs, why does the economic order still require a permanent subcategory of the impoverished and dependent? Why must society accept a capitalism that persists in generating greater inequalities, generation after generation, as the required terms for sustaining general abundance? If ever greater concentrations of wealth and power are the inescapable result of our economic system, then what future is there for ever achieving genuine democracy in place of an elite plutocracy?"
Greider proceeds to look at the workings of our capitalist system to answer these questions and to describe remedies now being tested by pioneers working for a new economic order. He believes the system is ripe for change and that we can't look to government for the fixes. "The problem is not the marketplace and it is not the government. The problem originates in the contest of clashing values between society and capitalism and, since this human society cannot surrender its deepest values, it must try to alter capitalism's.
"As we look deeper for the soul of capitalism, we find that, in the terms of ordinary human experience, American capitalism doesn't appear to have one." Why is this? It's because corporations have only one thing in mind—maximizing their financial bottom line—which they do regardless of the human and environmental costs (at least to the extent legally possible).
Greider gives examples of several specific fixes now being tried by reform-minded pioneers, such as widespread employee ownership of companies (including an employee voice in how firms are run), steering personal and pension fund assets to companies that are socially and environmentally responsible, investing locally through community development banks, and reducing limited liability protection for manager shareholders. But his main focus is the values (or lack thereof) that underlie corporate behavior. He identifies seven "essential social purposes that should reinforce a profitable, innovative corporation."
First, corporations should not only produce financial profits, but also add real value to the society.
Second, "the active objective of the corporation (should be) to achieve harmony with nature, instead of borrowing assets from the future, with the understanding that disturbing nature is inescapable, but destroying it is neither required nor free."
Fourth, the company should undertake explicit, measurable covenants with the communities in which it operates or which support it in some significant way.
Fifth, the firm's mission statement should recognize the right of all employees to achieve their own personal visions, whatever their potential or goals might be. (This as opposed to what Greider calls the "master and servant" employment relationship that now exists within corporate America.)
Sixth, "the corporation commits to defending the bedrock institutions of the society, from the viability of family life to the integrity of representative democracy."
And seventh, the company's culture should foster altruistic behavior.
These changes are difficult to imagine in today's circumstances. And to effect them means change at the deepest level. Greider believes that to do so this country needs to develop a new story of who we are. But it seems to be difficult for us to imagine what a plausible alternative vision of the future would be. "Taking on capitalism sounds too radical—and vaguely un-American, like a plot to over-throw the mighty engine of more. [Yet] as it presently functions, capitalism encourages the human pathologies, embodies irresponsibility as a central requirement in its operating routines, and gives most participants very limited capacity to behave otherwise.
"Empowering people to take ownership of their work and of the consequences of investing their wealth and savings, and to take responsibility for their roles as consumers and citizens, should be understood not as new burdens, but as opportunities to expand the boundaries of one's life. These tasks involve moral obligations both to others and self and the unborn future. They will engage one in the content of life that lies beyond material gains, where the returns are measured in greater human fulfillment.
"In essence, reform-minded pioneers seek to establish a different understanding of 'more'-the pursuit of a more fulfilling and ennobling existence, an opportunity the economic system effectively denies to most people. Imagine this narrative: Inventive Americans, having conquered scarcity and accomplished great plenty, set out to discover how to live wisely and agreeably and well with the abundance. Secure in material terms, they hope to learn at last what it means to be fully human. That is the country's new story."
In fact, we live in a Universe of abundance. Waking up to this reality will give us the confidence to move away from the scarcity model that prompts us to seek as much as we can for ourselves, even at the expense of others. It will enable us to live out the new story that Greider envisions for us. It will enable us to move closer to understanding that we are a part of this fruitful Earth we inhabit, which provides all we need. And it will give us the perspective to change our economic system to incorporate the social purposes enumerated above, so the system will be aligned with the needs of the environment and of each of us as well.
But to do this requires the efforts of all of us, because only through the efforts of many can we effect these deep value changes. The question is: are we up to it?
The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy by William Greider
Simon & Schuster, New York. 2003. $28.00.
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The Changing Form of Business
by Joe Kresse
As William Greider emphasizes in his book, The Soul of Capitalism, it's difficult to imagine transforming corporate behavior. As to why, I think it's useful to look back at the historical development of the corporate form. It should help us see how we got into the situation in which businesses now operate for the short-term financial benefit of their stockholders only, attempting to ignore their other effects on society and the environment.
In the West, one of the earliest forms of control over a sphere of economic activity occurred about 1000 years ago in England with the guild system. There were guilds for virtually all aspects of manufacture: silver and gold smiths, tailors, candle makers, furniture makers, etc. To be a part of one of these trades, one had to apprentice to a member of the guild to learn it. This was done at low pay and often took several years. No one not a member of a guild was allowed to produce guild products.
A next step was the formation of trading companies. Because it was very risky to send goods overseas on ships, traders and ship owners wanted to spread their risks over a number of ships and voyages. Hence, they gathered together in a quasi-corporate form, in which capital was contributed in exchange for an ownership certificate (which was neither tradable nor readily redeemable) and the funds would finance a number of voyages, with the expectation that enough of them would be successful for the overall venture to be profitable. One of the earliest of these organizations had a rather dashing name—The Merchant Adventurers.
In the 1600s, to get funds, the British Crown began selling groups the right to trade with and exploit various geographic areas of the world outside England. Some of these companies' names are still familiar: the British East India Company, the Hudson Bay Company, and the Virginia Company. Because these companies' operations were on a large scale, permanent stock was issued to finance them. The first stock issuance was by the British East India Company in 1613.
There was a further evolution in 1662 when an Act of Parliament gave the shareholders of the East India Company the protection of limited liability. This meant that stockholders' losses were limited to the amount of their investment, and they could not be sued for further amounts regardless of the losses generated by the Company's actions. Limited liability gives stockholders protection from losses without diminishing their claims to all the profits. This right became universally available to corporations in the United Kingdom in 1855.
Because in Britain property in the form of shares of stock originally came directly from a grant by a king, who was in power by divine right, property owners were considered an elite class with superior rights.
In the United States, there is no mention of corporations in the Constitution, as the states wanted to regulate them. There were less than ten corporations in the country at the time of the Constitution. Several of our country's founders wrote against the corporate form of business, fearing the concentration of power. This may have been a reaction to the power of the British trading companies.
The main thrust of state chartering in the early years of our Republic was to limit corporate powers. Limitations included restricting operations to a particular function, such as operating a school or bridge; a limited life—typically from 20 to 50 years; a maximum amount of capital a corporation could control; and a maximum amount of profit that could be earned or kept in a business. In 1809, the Virginia Supreme Court said that a corporate charter should not be granted if an applicant's "object is merely private or selfish; if it is detrimental to, or not promotive of, the public good...." As a result, most economic activity for the first 70 years of our country was carried out in the form of partnerships or sole proprietorships, which tended to be on a small scale and for whose acts the partners or proprietors were fully liable.
What changed? As Americans began to move toward the West Coast and as the country engaged in a Civil War, it became necessary to transport people and goods over long distances. The railroads were the answer. Because of the scope of their operations, they needed vast amounts of capital and wanted to operate in several states. As a result, they began to seek to remove some of the existing limitations on them. The Pennsylvania Railroad had great influence over that state's legislature, getting legislation that allowed one corporation to own another, and to own a corporation chartered in another state. This enabled the company to buy southern railroads after the Civil War without disclosing that they were the buyer, by using a holding company with another name to do the purchasing.
Perhaps the most famous case in increasing the power of corporations is the 1882 California Supreme Court case Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific. This case went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1886, and although it was not at issue, Chief Justice Waite stated in court prior to hearing the case that corporations had the status of persons under the law. The clerk who wrote up the case included this concept in the headnote of the published summary of the case, even though it is mentioned nowhere in the opinion itself. While a complicated story, it is notable that a number of members of the judiciary involved in this case had close ties to the railroads.
This case effectively granted corporations equal protection under the law as was granted to citizens by the 14th Amendment, and was used as a precedent for decisions in other states. Since then, corporations have been granted the right to due process, to freedom from unreasonable search, to a jury trial in a criminal case, to compensation for government takings, and from double jeopardy. It may be that corporations should have some or all of these rights, but in my opinion they should be granted by state legislatures, not decided by courts based on the rights of corporations as if they were persons.
Now the race was on to increase corporate rights. Limited liability was gradually granted as states revised no statutes. Limited life was abolished. A company could be chartered in a state other than the one in which it had its principal operations. Corporations no longer had to state what their specific business purpose was to be chartered, and could change it without needing to get statutory permission. A 1919 Michigan Supreme Court Case Dodge v. Ford stated that "a business corporation is organized and carried on primarily for the profit of the stockholders. The powers of the directors are to be employed for that end." This case was then used as a precedent in other states. What a difference from the 1809 Virginia case that said corporations could not act in a way detrimental to the public good.
Finally, the 1978 Supreme Court case First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti held that restricting the amount of money that can be spent for political purposes is restricting free speech (a right corporations have), thus equating money and speech. Since large corporations have access to huge amounts of money, their voices have become much louder than those of individual citizens in the political process.
So, even though in our country's history we started out with very great restrictions on corporations, over time those restrictions were removed, and we have come to the point where a corporation's purpose is to operate only for the benefit of its owners, the propertied class. Employees' salaries are an expense to be minimized. Operating in the least expensive way is seen as good, even if there is a societal cost like pollution or disease. In fact, any way of having the society, rather than the company, pay for some part of a company's costs, helps achieve the goal of maximizing return to stockholders. Move jobs to third-world countries with low pay, poor working conditions, and few environmental restrictions, and the stockholders benefit.
What needs to happen and what is happening now to change this situation
There are a number of legislative and government policy changes that should be made (like taking corporate money out of politics and no longer treating corporations as persons under the law). But we can also ask how corporations would operate in recognition of an interconnected, interdependent Universe—one in which all life has value. And we can ask if there is any evidence of this recognition in the way corporations act today.
First, a corporation would become inclusive in considering the stakeholders (not just stockholders) it affects. These would include the communities in which it operates, its employees and customers, its suppliers, and the environment. It would recognize that the health and well-being of all these are critical to the long-term success of the enterprise. Return to stockholders would be considered along with these considerations.
In this vein, corporate social responsibility has become a hot topic. Mention of it in the media increased by 50% from 2000 to 2001, and by an additional 400% from 2001 to 2002. Many companies are publishing reports, similar to their regular financial reports, detailing their social and environmental efforts. (This new form of reporting is called "Triple Bottom Line" reporting, for the three prongs of people, planet, and profit-also sometimes stated as equity, environment, and economics.) In Germany, corporate boards must include representatives of labor to help insure the fair treatment of workers.
Another change would be for corporations to be fully aware of their effects in the local areas in which they operate. This would be best achieved by functioning at a human scale. Can a CEO living in the U.S. truly understand the effect his company is having on Indonesia if it is cutting down the rainforest there? Wouldn't he be more aware if the cutting were occurring within miles of his home or the corporate headquarters?
In this arena, there is a strong movement for locally owned and operated businesses. There are now some community investment pools available to finance local entrepreneurs. In this way, customer-investors want the businesses to do well, and the businesses want to keep their customer-investors happy. There are also experiments with local currencies as a way to keep money circulating within communities rather than leaving them. And there is increasing resistance to large stores that come into areas and devastate downtown districts, while at the same time paying low wages and taking all the profits elsewhere.
A further change would be for corporations to drop much of the secrecy with which they currently operate. This would be a movement towards transparency, in which product details, what is used in the production process, financial condition, advertising copy, and other aspects of operations are fully disclosed and done with straightforwardness and honesty. It could be thought of as the corporate version of food labeling. This would increase the trust people have in business.
There are now sets of principles and reporting standards for companies to become more transparent. Two of these are the Global Reporting Initiative and the Coalition of Environmentally Responsible Enterprises (CERES). Many large companies now have another CEO—the Chief Ethics Officer. Business schools are teaching ethics classes, and there is a large backlash against the corporate excesses of the past few years.
Finally, corporations could become more responsible by designing their processes and products for long-term sustainability—not damaging people or ecosystems. This would also apply to how they treat their employees, customers, and suppliers—with the honesty and integrity required if they are to be truly responsible members of society.
Here, there is a tremendous amount happening. Organizations like The Natural Step, Green-Blue Institute, Natural Capitalism Academy, Biomimicry Design Center, and many others are showing how responsible corporations actually perform better than irresponsible ones across the board. Whether it is lower labor costs because of lower turnover and more motivated employees, or lower product costs because of less waste of materials, energy, and other inputs, or greater customer loyalty, responsible companies are being shown to outperform their peers by significant amounts -by more than 20% in some studies.
To conclude, we are at a watershed moment for business. The forces promoting the emerging worldview are gathering strength, yet there is still tremendous inertia on the part of those at the top who are still doing well personally and so resist this change. By our choices—what and how much we buy, where we buy, what we invest in, where we work and what efforts we make there to shift the worldview by living it and advocating for it—we can help make this transformation.
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A Sane System Wouldn't Have Mad Cows
An Editorial by Elizabeth Sawin
Well, now we can rest easy.
New safeguards against mad cow disease are in place, and our confidence in the safety of the meat supply has been restored. That's what the headlines are proclaiming, anyway. But at least among my family and friends, confidence in the multi-billion-dollar beef industry isn't rising very quickly.
Instead of being relieved to learn that meat from cows that are too sick to stand and walk will no longer be allowed into the food supply, my acquaintances are horrified to learn that using the meat from such "downer" cows used to be standard practice. That fact isn't just unappetizing, it's downright frightening. And since scientists in Britain and Japan report that some cows infected with the disease are still able to walk, the new rules don't seem likely to provide the kind of peace of mind consumers want.
Mad cow disease (otherwise known as bovine spongioform encephalopathy, or BSE) is a complex phenomenon, but one basic fact is clear—it is transmitted when animals eat feed made from infected animals. And so the way to prevent any new outbreaks is obvious—stop feeding animal byproducts and slaughterhouse waste to animals.
But the new "safeguards" don't go nearly this far. They still allow cow byproducts to be fed to poultry and swine, and remains of those animals may be fed to cows. This is a reckless practice, given that we already know that BSE has the potential to move from one species to another, as it does from cows to humans.
Perhaps simply strengthening agricultural standards will offer adequate protection. That's what many Democrats in Congress seem to be saying as they call for more inspectors, better tracking of sick animals, and routine testing of all cows over three years old. These are all good ideas. If they were put into practice, they would probably limit the spread and impact of mad cow disease. Implementing a total ban on all animal byproduct feeding, as Europe has done, would be even more effective.
But even such stringent standards treat the mad cow threat as a problem in isolation. Take a few steps back from the mad cow issue, though, and you'll see other issues connected to the way meat is produced and sold in our modern food system: meat recalls because of contamination with E. coli bacteria; water-shed pollution emitted from concentrated feeding operations; and the loss of small farms as agricultural operations grow bigger and bigger.
Standards for the prevention of mad cow disease don't affect any of these other problems, but there is another approach that guards against diseases like BSE and tackles these other issues, too. In different regions and on different farms this approach goes by different names. You might hear it called organic farming, grass-fed farming, sustainable agriculture, or community-supported agriculture.
Whatever name it goes by, this kind of farming doesn't accept the primary goal of industrial agriculture—to produce the most food for the least cost. Instead these farmers focus on quality, freshness, and the health of the soil. And, in the case of organic agriculture, the food they produce is free of herbicides and pesticides.
The example I know best is a version of community-supported agriculture, a small operation run by my neighbors. They raise seven acres of vegetables, and they milk a small herd of Jersey cows. Each year they also raise a few steers, offspring of the milking herd, on hilly pastureland. They produce hundreds of pounds of steaks, roasts and hamburger for sale to their neighbors. The steers eat only grass and hay, hardly any grain (all of which is organic) and never any animal byproducts. This all adds up to safe meat for families, manure for the vegetable gardens, a better income for a small farm, and a good use for hilly Vermont pastureland.
Small-scale sustainable farming costs more—at least on the surface. My family pays more for our meat than we would at the grocery store. But the other kind of farming isn't as much of a bargain as it looks. In the new era of BSE, taxpayers and consumers will be paying a bill for inspections, recalls, testing, and tracking. The other costs-to our peace of mind and to our health—will become clear only over time.
As the mad cow headlines stream past, I feel luckier than ever that my farmer-neighbors are doing the work they do. I wish every community and every family had the confidence mine does in its food. That may not be an unreasonable wish. Organic food and food from small farms is becoming easier to obtain. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, retail sales of organic food have grown around 20 percent each year since 1990. The number of farmers' markets in the country expanded by 79 percent between 1994 and 2002.
With the current mad cow scare revealing some of the hidden costs of the industrial food system, such impressive growth in sustainable agriculture seems likely to continue. Consumers who understand and reject the hidden costs of the industrial food system could provide the catalyst for bringing farms, farmers, and communities together into a truly healthy food system.
Elizabeth R. Sawin, a biologist and systems analyst who lives in Hartland, VT, writes a monthly column for the Sustainability Institute, also in Hartland.
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Plastic Containers: Bad and Better
RULE NUMBER ONE: If you can avoid using plastic containers, great. They're all made from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource. And all of them leach chemicals to some degree into whatever drink or food is in the container. In an article in World-Watch, Mindy Pennybacker, editor of the Green Guide, tells which plastic containers are bad and which are better.
Pennybacker first takes on bottled water, noting that it's expensive and that the water, even if it comes from springs, is not necessarily safer and healthier than water from your tap. Extensive tests of bottled waters have even turned up some which contain pesticides.
"But," says Pennybacker, "it's infants and children, whose bodies are rapidly growing, who are most vulnerable to potential developmental harm from chemicals that have been found to leach from certain plastics, including polycarbonate, the most common plastic used in baby bottles."
7 Polycarbonate. A clear, rigid plastic used not only for most baby bottles and some baby cups, but for five-gallon and one-gallon water jugs. After prolonged use, or when heated or exposed to acidic solutions (orange juice?), polycarbonate can leach bisphenol-A, a known hormone disruptor. If you must use plastic baby bottles, Pennybacker recommends polypropylene (#5) or polyethylene (#1). But, she adds: "The potential for leaching provides one more reason to choose breastfeeding, which delivers preheated milk from a safe, natural container."
3 Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). It's virtually unrecyclable and releases dioxins when incinerated. In contact with hot and/or fatty foods, PVC can release adipates and phthalates which have been shown to cause birth defects and organ damage in animal studies. Used as cling wrap in markets to wrap cheeses and meats.
6 Polystyrene. Can leach styrene, a possible human carcinogen. Used in foam cups, plastic cutlery, and food containers. Drink from glass or ceramic containers instead, advises Pennybacker.
1 PETE/PET. Used for most 2-liter and smaller beverage bottles. Generally considered safe, but may leak phthalate if liquids are stored for a prolonged time.
None of the following have been shown to leach any carcinogens or endocrine disruptors.
2 HDPE. Used for food storage containers, pitchers, etc.
4 LDPE. Used for some plastic wraps, baggies, baby bottle liners.
5 Polypropylene. Used for some children's drinking cups, reusable sports squeeze bottles, reusable food containers, yogurt and margarine tubs.
For more information, see Product Reports on "Plastics for Kitchen Use" and "Bottled Water" at www.thegreenguide.com
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Dr. L. Robert Keck
Dr. L. Robert Keck, an evolutionary theologian, author, and Senior Fellow with the Foundation for Global Community, passed away early this year.
An article reporting on a speech by Dr. Keck appeared in the January/ February 2002 issue of Timeline.
Based in part on his book, Sacred Quest, Dr. Keck spoke about transforming the root causes of violence, making the point that violence is a relatively recent phenomenon in human history, limited to the past 8500-10,000 years. Dr. Keck wrote, "It is scientifically incorrect to think that war or any other violent behavior is genetically programmed into human nature. Nor has there been, in the course of evolution, a natural selection for aggressive behavior."
Dr. Keck invested a good portion of his career in researching the history of human values. He theorized that the world is in the midst of a global transformation of its deep values. "As we truly absorb the implications of the unbroken wholeness of the Universe, we will still be able to see and value the distinction between the parts (religions, races, nations), but we will also value how permeable the membrane is between the parts. As in ecology, we will know the value of diversity, and at the same time, know that for the greatest amount of health and well-being there is a profound interdependence at work-naturally."
Dr. Keck also recognized that during this transitional period there would be a sense of fear and desperation that could emerge into an enormous amount of violence. "But if enough of us awaken to the unique responsibilities inherent in living within this extraordinary time in history, if enough of us choose to make a difference, to become active peacemakers, and to be diligent in our efforts to usher in this new epoch of the human journey, there are reasons for hope."
Dr. L. Robert Keck devoted his life to that endeavor and inspired many others to do likewise.
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From Ancient Greece to Iraq, the Power of Words in Wartime
An Article by Robin Tolmach Lakoff
An American soldier refers to an Iraqi prisoner as "it." A general speaks not of "Iraqi fighters" but of "the enemy." A weapons manufacturer doesn't talk about people but about "targets."
Bullets and bombs are not the only tools of war. Words, too, play their part.
Human beings are social animals, genetically hard-wired to feel compassion toward others. Under normal conditions, most people find it very difficult to kill.
But in war, military recruits must be persuaded that killing other people is not only acceptable but even honorable.
The language of war is intended to bring about that change, and not only for soldiers in the field. In wartime, language must be created to enable combatants and non-combatants alike to see the other side as killable, to overcome the innate queasiness over the taking of human life. Soldiers, and those who remain at home, learn to call their enemies by names that make them seem not quite human—inferior, contemptible and not like "us."
The specific words change from culture to culture and war to war. The names need not be obviously demeaning. Just the fact that we can name them gives us a sense of superiority and control. If, in addition, we give them nicknames, we can see them as smaller, weaker and childlike-not worth taking seriously as fully human.
The Greeks and Romans referred to everyone else as "barbarians"-etymologically those who only babble, only go "barbar." During the American Revolution, the British called the colonists "Yankees," a term with a history that is still in dispute. While the British intended it disparagingly, the Americans, in perhaps the first historical instance of reclamation, made the word their own and gave it a positive spin, turning the derisive song "Yankee Doodle" into our first, if unofficial, national anthem.
In World War I, the British gave the Germans the nickname "Jerries," from the first syllable of German. In World War II, Americans referred to the Japanese as "Japs."
The names may refer to real or imagined cultural and physical differences that emphasize the ridiculous or the repugnant. So in various wars, the British called the French "Frogs." Germans have been called "Krauts," a reference to weird and smelly food. The Vietnamese were called "slopes" and "slants." The Koreans were referred to simply as "gooks."
The war in Iraq has added new examples. Some American soldiers refer to the Iraqis as "hadjis," used in a derogatory way, apparently unaware that the word, which comes from the Arabic term for a pilgrimage to Mecca, is used as a term of respect for older Muslim men.
The Austrian ethologist Konrad Lorenz suggested that the more clearly we see other members of our own species as individuals, the harder we find it to kill them.
So some terms of war are collective nouns, encouraging us to see the enemy as an undifferentiated mass, rather than as individuals capable of suffering. Crusaders called their enemy "the Saracen," and in World War I, the British called Germans "the Hun."
American soldiers are trained to call those they are fighting against "the enemy." It is easier to kill an enemy than an Iraqi.
The word "enemy" itself provides the facelessness of a collective noun. Its nonspecificity also has a fear-inducing connotation; enemy means simply "those we are fighting," without reference to their identity.
The terrors and uncertainties of war make learning this kind of language especially compelling for soldiers on the front. But civilians back home also need to believe that what their country is doing is just and necessary, and that the killing they are supporting is in some way different from the killing in civilian life that is rightly punished by the criminal justice system. The use of the language developed for military purposes by civilians reassures them that war is not murder.
The linguistic habits that soldiers must absorb in order to fight make atrocities like those at Abu Ghraib virtually inevitable. The same language that creates a psychological chasm between "us" and "them" and enables American troops to kill in battle, makes enemy soldiers fit subjects for torture and humiliation. The reasoning is: They are not really human, so they will not feel the pain.
Once language draws that line, all kinds of mistreatment become imaginable, and then justifiable. To make the abuses at Abu Ghraib unthinkable, we would have to abolish war itself.
Robin Tolmach Lakoff is a linguistics professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of The Language War.
Copyright 2004 by The New York Times Co. Reprinted with permission.
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Hope for the World Lies in Expanding Our Identity
An Editorial by Walt Hays
"A human being is part of the whole, called by us the Universe. A part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison, by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures." — Albert Einstein
In Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, "identification" is defined in part as "psychological orientation of the self in regard to something (as a person or group) with a resulting feeling of close emotional association."
Identification is a natural and helpful part of the maturation process, in that it leads individuals to extend love and compassion to others. In today's world, however, an overly narrow identification can lead to catastrophe.
Identification starts on a personal level. We identify with our physical body and act to defend it if threatened. We extend that personal identity to our property and ideas, also defending them from perceived challenges.
As we mature, we expand our identity to include larger groups, starting with the family and gradually extending outward. For early humans, the natural extension was to the tribe, and with that came the willingness to cooperate, and even to sacrifice oneself to protect the group. Those traits were adaptive from an evolutionary standpoint, because they made groups more effective in dealing with harsh conditions and dangers, and their members therefore more likely to survive. They also had a maladaptive aspect, in that they led people to perceive people outside the group as enemies, which often led to armed conflict. But with small populations and primitive weapons, the harm done did not threaten the human race as a whole.
As tribes gave way to larger entities, group identification expanded with them, to cities, states, countries, races, religions, even civilizations. As that happened, the advantages of cooperation and sacrifice persisted. However, with the advent of weapons of mass destruction, the negative impact of the tendency to perceive the "other" as enemy has come to threaten the survival of the species, through either mutual annihilation, destruction of our life-supporting environment, or both.
Leaders intent on waging war always begin by narrowing and sharpening identification, portraying the enemy as evil and inhuman. On the other hand, peace has come when peoples in conflict recognize their interdependence, and expand their identity to see each other as fellow humans, with whom they can cooperate for mutual benefit. Two of the best examples are Germany and France, who fought bloody wars for centuries, but have now embraced each other in the European Union. Americans have also undergone this sea change in attitude several times—most recently with Germany, Japan, China, and Russia—so we have experienced both the artificiality of enemy projections and the process for moving beyond them.
As we see our future increasingly threatened by resource depletion, pollution, and species extinction, we are beginning to recognize that we are also part of and interdependent with the environment. In this case our former narrow identification led us to think of the natural world as an inexhaustible resource to be used at will, but we now understand that continuation of the human experiment depends on expanding our identification to include all life, for all time.
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From the Writings of Thomas Berry
A new story is emerging of an intimate Earth community.
Only in recent times has such a vision become possible. We never knew enough.
Now the time has come to lower our voices, to cease imposing our mechanistic patterns on the biological processes of the Earth, to resist the impulse to control, and to begin quite humbly to follow the guidance of the larger community on which all life depends.
Our human destiny is integral with the destiny of the Earth.
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