ONRC's 100-Year Plan For Restoring Biological Diversity, Living within our Ecological and Economic Means, Achieving a Sustainable Population, and Restoring Family Values in the Greater Oregon Ecosystem
Given 10 September 1994, 22nd ONRC Annual Conference, Sky Camp, Fall Creek, Oregon
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 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.
While we generally know what needs to be done, as a society, and as governments, and as corporations and as individuals, we are afraid to do it. We are all afraid of change. Environmentalists are just as afraid of change as the timber mill worker. Because we are afraid of change; because we can't clearly see a future that is better; we won't make the necessary moves today.
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.
While environmentalists neither want to go backward or forward to another Stone Age, we haven't stated where forward we do want to go.
Environmentalists know what needs to be done, we just have to start saying it.
We know that we must conserve the biological diversity that remains and restore much of what we have lost.
We know we must move and reduce our food, material and energy consumption to sustainable systems and levels.
Finally, we know that we must reduce our human population to sustainable levels.
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 messes 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 this first to ourselves, but proclaim it to the world. When we do, we'll get further, faster.
Toward that end, I want to outline, ONRC's 100-Year Plan For Restoring Biological Diversity, Living Within Our Ecological and Economic Means, Achieving a Sustainable Population and Restoring Family Values in the Greater Oregon Ecosystem.
To our detractors and skeptics, because we have painted no picture, all they can see is a new Stone Age. The vision we have; the picture we must paint is of a new age; is of an age of sustainability, of justice and peace.
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 in abundance so we can eat as much as we want, when we want; we need wilderness and lots of it.
60% of Oregon is publicly owned. Most, save for a few transportation corridors, should be returned to the wild. But it won't be enough. 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% of Oregon needs to be public and wild again. Most is unoccupied and it's use, or more accurately, abuse is subsidized by us taxpayers. It should be acquired from willing sellers obtained by immediate purchase or purchased 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, we'd 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% is a very reasonable and relatively easily obtainable goal. Energy philosopher Amory Lovins has painted us the picture how we can get by, just as nicely, on 25% of the energy and material we now consume. We can live, quite nicely, off of 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% of the resources we now consume. We have the technologies on the shelf today to do it.
It shouldn't take a 100 years to make the change, but we'll take it if we need it.
Third, Sustainable Population
We have six billion on Earth, and three million in Oregon today. Scientists have calculated that if we want to sustain the northern industrial lifestyle worldwide, albeit using less resources, more efficiently we can sustain two billion on earth and one million in Oregon. Oregon had one million people just six decades ago. Far less than a century ago. To achieve two billion on earth and one 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.
When I say "family values" I mean families who are tolerant of other families.
A problem with those who traditionally espouse family values is that basically they are people who don't want anyone to have any fun. Because they are unhappy; they seek to make others unhappy as well. They need to lighten up.
Many of our social problems have either environmental causes or cause environmental problems, or both.
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. Instead, we are working harder and getting less; the short-term response is to work harder to get more. 80% of the GNP increase in the 1980s went to the richest 1% of this nation. To save the environment and save society, we need to redistribute some wealth. A rich society can afford to help those in need; indeed a true civilization cannot afford not to.
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 several fold, but workers haven't benefited commensurably.
You've heard of tax day. The day each year proclaimed by anti-tax types 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 sometime in April.
Our personal fiscal health is not the better for all the work; let alone our mental, physical and emotional health; or the health of the Earth.
That great environmentalist Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden that he needed to work only six weeks of each year; the rest of the time being free for, in his words, "study." Anthropologists note the so-called "primitive" cultures work about 10-15% of the time, or about 5-8 weeks per year. Given that Thoreau had much more technology than "primitives" and we today have much more than Thoreau, we ought to be able to drastically cut our work week, giving us more time for ourselves, for our families and for our communities. Let's share the good jobs and better yet, let's be concerned about livelihoods, not jobs. Let's have a family-wage job that can support a family so it doesn't need two breadwinners to not make it.
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.
But capitalism must be more just to both people and to the Earth. Bounds of social and environmental acceptability must be placed on capitalism.
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/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 I, the price goes up to $92/barrel. If you were to add on the environmental costs, the price of oil would be much higher. (To those of you who like me who looked 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 only be made humane and just, 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.
Environmentalists need to be more involved directly in social and economic problems, if for no other reason than social pressures, unaddressed, have great potential to harm the Earth.
We cannot as a species progress if some of us are left behind. Opportunity and equality must be available to all, regardless of their class or color or gender.
Oregonians and all Earthlings are engaged in the greatest evolutionary test of all time. We humans, with our large brains and opposable thumbs, have conquered the world. Any species, any ecosystem will live or die because we humans allow it. As humans, we have no serious predators, save ourselves. To date, as a species, we have successfully out-maneuvered all the environmental checks and balances that keep any other species within their limits. Our population continues to grow in spite of diseases like AIDS. Due to environmental stresses, human sperm counts are down 50% in the last 30 years. What do we do about it? We don't address the underlying causes, but simply do it in test tubes.
As a species, we are orders of magnitude more successful than any others 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 evolutionarily 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. The Chinese ideogram for "crisis" is a combination of their ideograms for "danger" and "opportunity."
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.
Andy Kerr is Executive Director of ONRC, the Oregon Natural Resources Council whose mission is the aggressive defense of Oregon's wild lands. ONRC has offices in Portland, Eugene, Bend and Klamath Falls. Kerr lives in Joseph.