Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

ONRC's Executive Director Outlines 100-Year Plan for State

Suggested Citation: Kerr Andy. 1994. ONRC's executive director outlines 100-year plan for state. The Oregonian. September 11. S5.

By Andy Kerr

Environmentalists don't want to go back to the Stone Age. We simply don't want to go forward to another one. But that is where we are going.

In the words of that great environmentalist George Herbert Walker Bush, "We are in deep doo-doo."

You know it. I know it. Bill Clinton knows it. Probably even George Weyerhaeuser knows it.

We are in an unprecedented ecological crisis. We are suffering the loss of biological diversity at an astounding rate. We are losing not only massive numbers of individual species, but are losing whole ecosystems and the services they provide. But we all know that.

We are consuming energy far faster than it is being produced and polluting our skies, our waters and ourselves in the process. But we all know that.

We are reproducing at astronomical rates, facing a doubling of the human population in just a few decades. But we all know that.

We humans are living far beyond our means. We are so far beyond sustainable as to be downright scary. We are robbing from our grandchildren to pay our bills and the bills of our grandparents. But we all know that.
The challenge is what to do about it. We know we have to change; and we generally know in the directions we must change, but we aren't changing much at all, and not nearly fast enough and far enough. As a society, we are paralyzed in a status quo that is killing us today and killing our hopes of any future tomorrow.

Environmentalists are often charged, rightly so, with just being against things. We have failed to articulate a vision of a sustainable, rational and just society. While criticizing the existing society as failed and failing, as a movement we haven't offered up an alternative.

Before I outline some specific steps, I want to address the issue of time. Part of the reason that the environmentalists' message of change is rejected out of hand by so many is that fear of change. Many people fear that to do what environmentalists seek immediately will be the end of the world as they know it. These fears are well-founded. We do want to end the world as we have known it; but only the bad parts. We want to maintain and enhance the good parts.

It took several hundred years to get into the mess we are , and we won't get out of them immediately. It will take at least a century to move to a sustainable world. Environmentalists should not only acknowledge to ourselves, but proclaim it to the world. When we do, we'll get further, faster.
Toward that end, I want to outline in general ONRC's 100-year plan for restoring biological diversity, living within our ecological and economic means, achieving a sustainable population, and restoring family values to the state of Oregon.

First, biological diversity.

We've lost too much wilderness. We must not only conserve every acre that remains, but restore much that was lost. If the public wants the grizzly bear and wolf to return, we need wilderness and lots of it. If we want salmon, not only as museum pieces but also in abundance so we can eat as much as we want, when we want, we need wilderness and lots of it.

Sixty percent of Oregon is publicly owned. There are private lands which are critical to the conservation and restoration of species and ecosystems. These should be acquired by the public. Another 20 percent of Oregon needs to be public and wild again. Most is unoccupied and its use, or more accurately—abuse, is subsidized by us taxpayers. It should be acquired from willing sellers obtained by immediate purchase or purchase with the granting of life-tenure to present occupants of the land.

The re-wilding of the Greater Oregon Ecosystem will take at least 75 years as projected by The Wildlands Project, but more likely 100 years.

Second, living within our ecological and economic means.

We have to use less. Not only is what we northern industrial junkies are consuming unsustainable, but we'd also have to increase the world's industrial base 20 times for the rest of the world to catch up. Another way to look at it is that we need another three Earths, and that still wouldn't be sustainable.Cutting our consumption by 75 percent is a very reasonable and relatively easily obtainable goal. Energy philosophy Amory Lovins has painted us the picture how we can get by, just as nicely on 25 percent of the energy and material we now consume. We can live, quite nicely, off solar income. In terms of material consumption, by simply using half as much, twice as long, we can get by, just as nicely, on 25 percent of the energy we now consume. We have the technologies on the shelf today to do it.

It shouldn't take a hundred years to make the change, but we'll take it if we need it.

Third, sustainable population.

We have 6 billion on Earth and 3 million in Oregon today. Scientists have calculated that if we want to sustain the northern industrial lifestyle worldwide, albeit using less resources more efficiently, as I've outlined, we can sustain 2 billion on Earth and 1 million in Oregon.

To achieve 2 billion on Earth and 1 million in Oregon in 100 years, every family in the world and in Oregon must average 1.5 children. It's not that hard. Germany, that industrial giant, has already done it; Hong Kong, once part of and soon to be again a part of China, is beyond it at 1.4 without any "Chinese-style" birth control. Finally, Italy, home of the Roman Catholic Church, is at 1.3.

Yes, we can do it in 100 years.

If we fail to limit population, we won't have any economic growth, no matter how much or how little we consume.

Fourth, family values.

Environmentalists must take this term back from the intolerant right.

Environmentalists support family values. Our view of what constitutes a family is more inclusive and tolerant, and includes families that are child-free, but many of the fears that drive people to the far right are valid.
Our problem is that the intolerant right seeks illegitimate solutions to our legitimate fears. But what does this have to do with family values?

A lot, actually. In an effort to provide for their families, people are working harder. As we work harder, we consume more of the Earth's limited resources. If we didn't have to work as hard to meet our needs, we wouldn't have to be so heavy on the Earth or each other.

We have a society out of time. We're working so hard to make it today, that we don't have time to think of tomorrow. We don't have time to pause and reflect. We don't have time to be tolerant. We don't have time to enjoy life and enjoy the Earth and each other.

We all need to work less. On the average, we're all working 160 hours more per year than 25 years ago. Four 40-hour weeks more! Since the 40-hour week was established, worker productivity has increased severalfold, but workers haven't benefited commensurately.

You've heard of tax day. The day each year proclaimed by anti-tax types each year as how long you have to work each year to pay your taxes. Have you heard of work day? It's the day of the year up to which you have to work to work? It includes the cost of automobiles and insurance and gas to get to work; clothes to wear at work, etc. It's some time in April.

We've ended the dreaded communism; we must now end the dreaded capitalism. Environmentalists can more safely criticize capitalism now that communism is dead. We can urge a new order, not just be perceived as advocating the alternative of communism. Both were and are unsustainable; both were and are environmentally destructive; both were and are unjust. As we seek a new economic order, we must save the good parts of modern capitalism, such as its benefits of efficiency in production and distribution of goods and services. For capitalism to succeed today, it must learn how to make more with less.

We may fail to save the Earth and ourselves because our engineers say it is not feasible and our accountants say it is not cost-effective. Capitalism must be changed to recognize the true costs of goods and services.
We think oil is cheap at $17 a barrel. When you add in the cost to the taxpayers of paying for the Department of Defense to get the oil through from Kuwait during Oil War 1, the price goes up to $92 a barrel. If you were to add on the environmental costs, the price o foil would be much higher. (To those of you who, like me, look forward to the day we run out of oil; don't. We will run out of air before we run out of oil.)

Capitalism can be made humane and just only if democratic governments are more powerful than corporations. This can only be done if labor has as much power and is as free to move as capital. Such is not the case today.
This new capitalism can be productive and profitable as well as humane and healthy. It can be efficient, and it can be equitable.

As a species, we are orders of magnitude more successful than any other species. We have, for the short term at least, transcended any limits. But nature bats last. In the end, we humans must learn to live within our means on Earth or we won't be on Earth.

The evolutionary challenge is whether we, as a species, will evolve to have the wisdom to practice, something no other species has ever done or had to do, that is to practice willful self-restraint. We must learn to live with our means, both economic and environmental. We must be concerned about the quality of our people, not the quantity of people.

Will we as a species learn that our long-term survival, as well as our short-term real comfort, depends upon a healthy, clean and diverse planet?

I believe we can. Changing the world won't be popular. Environmentalists can be hell to live with, but they can make great ancestors.

Because changing the world will take at least a century, we don't have a moment to waste. Let us begin today.