Saving Ourselves by Giving Nature Space

Saving Ourselves by Giving Nature Space

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Collectively - you know - we tend to think  that the human mind is a perfected thing and there are... there are many very  obvious reasons why that's not true.   There's nothing at all perfect  about us; we are a work in progress. So, thank you. I’m talking today with Carl  Safina and Carl you're a New Yorker? Yes.  

>>>Yeah, I thought I recognized that lilt,  shall we say, it's nice. >>>I’ve heard it...I've   heard it called 'the bridge-and-tunnel'  accent recently. >>>Yeah, and I want to say: my deepest appreciation from the bottom  of my heart for the work that you do.   >>>That's really kind, thank you.  >>>The framing on that earlier TED talk   "Do they love us - do we love them?"  enough to give them space to live.

You're an incredibly skilled communicator  for the rest of the... >>>Thank you,   thank you. >>>And I wanted, if I could, focus on  something. This is not an interview; I don't do   interviews. I do conversations. >>>Okay. >>>So, I  wanted... if we could converse a little bit about:   how you are seeing us dig our way out  of this morass that we've created.   Now, the way I’ve ideated it in my own head, and  this came out of my work in the climate crisis,   until I finally realized that  the UNFCCC is... they may be  

honestly trying to solve the problem, but the  nations that are negotiating are not. >>>Yeah.   >>>They're disingenuous. They... you don't try  something for 25 years and make no progress,   right? ...>>>It takes... that takes effort...  that it takes effort to make no progress   in 25 years. >>>It takes effort to obfuscate...  to make the public think you're trying to make   progress. >>>Yeah. >>>And it takes allowing  the fox to guard the hen house, so Exxon and  

Chevron are invited in as sponsors  of the climate talks. >>>Right. So, it's... I realized finally it's our whole  economic system, which is built to attack Nature,   to monetize it; to try to make money out  of every last tree. I often quote the   CEO of some lumber company, some forestry company  that said: when I see a tree, a standing tree,   I see a whole bunch of hundred-dollar  bills on a...on a stump. >>>Yeah.   >>>So how do we crack this nut and save ourselves  by say... by giving the rest of Nature some room?

>>>Well, it would take a while to unpack simply  what you've just said as a bit of an introduction,   but if I knew the answer to how we  could do it I would be doing that   the - you know - there are... there are sort  of a number of different angles at which   one can come at these issues and some of them  sound very cynical; some of them sound defeatist   and some of them have seeds of hope. I think  unfortunately all of them have a lot of truth,   so I don't know how you want to start  first, but I will say that I think that   collectively - you know - we tend to think  that the human mind is a perfected thing and there are... there are many very obvious reasons  why that's not true. There's nothing at all  

perfect about us. We are a work in progress,  and we have lots and lots of work to do.   The way I look at things as an ecologist is  a continuum of life; every... all life is on   a continuum and if you... if you observe life on  its continuum you see our place on that continuum   and you can see or at least I can see that while  we might be the extreme animal. and I think that  

that's one way of understanding what and who we  are. the extreme animal: we're not perfect in   any of the things that we are extreme at,  so for instance, we are the most creative   and we are the most compassionate of all  animals, but we are also the cruelest   and the most destructive.  There... if you want to...   if you want to emphasize what seems like the good  part of that, the creative and the compassionate,   then obviously we have a tremendous amount of room  to improve and perfect that part of us, because   we are destructive to other living things; we  are destructive and competitive to other people;   we are cruel to people who hold beliefs that  are different than ours, whether they are   cultural beliefs, ethnic differences, economic  differences - you know - my most recent book is   about culture and the most interesting thing about  culture on the... on the idea of this continuum   is that not all animals have culture, but for  all animals that do have culture and what culture   is... we tend to think of culture as material  things. We think that it is - you know - music  

and dance and arts and technology. Those are just  manifestations of culture. What culture is...   the answers that an animal has, or a community  has to the question of how do we live here?   So how we live here is our religious beliefs,  our technologies, our... the sports teams that   we... that we boost; that's how we live here  and the thing that... >>>Political rivalries...  

>>>Well, yes, the thing that you see with  other animals is that what culture always does   is... you have... you have a group of individuals,  and culture makes the individuals come together,   gives them a cultural identity which is the way  we do things, but then with those other animals   the cultural groups tend to avoid each other or  they're actively hostile to each other. They...   the groups... once the groups are formed  and they have their way of doing things,   they don't mesh those things, because confusion  arises and this is true with people as well.   If - you know - one religion and you go into a  different house of worship, you don't know what to   do; you can't cooperate. If you... if you speak  Greek and you mix... meet somebody who speaks  

English and those are the only two languages you  have between you, you don't know what to do; you   can't cooperate. So, what do you do? You stay with  the ones who know the same answers that you have.   And this is really - you know - I learned this  by watching these other animals and writing   my most recent book, which is called "Becoming  Wild", but this is really... I’ve come to see   it as the root of our cultural frictions and the  intractability of these problems which stem really   from totally arbitrary things: you do it one way,  I do it another way. Why should that be a problem?   It's a problem, because deep in our animal nature  we're not comfortable with people who have other   answers to the question of how do we do things.  So that's part of it. Now I - you know - you asked   me how to... how do we... how do we solve this?  Well, I think first of all is a recognition that   we have collectively... we're not up to solving  it, and I think that only by creating a culture  

of compassion and a culture that seeks to  stop the ways that we live, that depend   on destroying the world, those are the only hopes  and that's a very, very tall order at this point,   as you can tell. >>>Yeah. >>>I think we've made a  lot of progress along those lines on an individual   basis. I think our understanding of these problems  is much better than it was when I was a kid.   It's much more in the conversation, it's much  more in the... in the international treaties - you   know - the languages are... the language is there,  but the implementation is not, and I think the  

reason the implementation is not, it's that it's  much too difficult to cool a system that depends   on providing things for people, when the number  of people has tripled in my lifetime. There are   three times as many people now as there were when  I was born. How do you cool a destructive system   that depends utterly on acceleration? That I  think is the problem, right? So, I think the   hope is that when the human population finally  plateaus and hopefully begins as... a slow and   smooth descent to something that the world could  bear; that we will be able to take what is left   and create something that is beautiful and  sustainable and works for everybody. >>>So,  

we've circled around to the population or  overpopulation issue. My understanding,   gross understanding, is that it's said that  the planet might support three billion of   us sustainably, but we're at seven, on its way  quickly towards eight billion, so we're already   in overshoot. >>>Yeah, well 'sustainably'  depends on exactly what you... what you   want to sustain - you know - I would say  more like one billion people probably,   which is around the population that there was say  in 1800, when a few people like Malthus started to   see that there... looked like there would be  problems coming with population number... human   population numbers. He didn't... he didn't live  at a time when people extracted nearly as much   per person as we do - you know - in our kind  of lifestyle, but nonetheless that... that to   me is probably about the number of people  that could live well... live sustainably,  

live in peace and not be driving almost every  other living thing to its lowest population level   in history and creating the extinction crisis that  we have as well as all of the frictions that we -   you know - find so intractable. >>>Now, you, when  I first posed that question of how do we... well,   you use the word 'solve' and I don't believe in  'solutions' anymore; I believe in 'interventions';   is too much 'putting the toothpaste back  in the tube' and there's too much out on   the floor already, but in terms of  interventions then... you mentioned   three categories of interventions.  I can't recount them now,  

but I don't think you exhausted with an example  of each and I think that would be a good way to   lay out the field, because again what I hope that  you and I are contributing in this conversation   is... my audience which thinks about these kinds  of things... how do we help them structure their   thinking in a way that creativity will evolve  on - you know - 'we should' or 'I will',   >>>Well, I think at the risk of sounding not very  original... I think the compass is a culture of   compassion that the - you know - the spreading  circle of compassion. We tend to be compassionate   to our own kind. I think - to really oversimplify  I think - an argument could be made that all...  

almost all philosophy to date boils down to  one dictum which is 'don't hurt our people' and   what is 'in' our people and who is 'out' of  our people is really the thing, so we have   had - you know - in Western civilization...  our people used to be men who owned property,   that... that has been expanding - you know -  we... we've expanded recently to other people,   other races, people of other economic  circumstances, people of other cultures,   people of other genders or sexual proclivities...  every time we expand the circle of compassion -   you know - to say whose interests are we concerned  with, every time that gets bigger, it gets better   and it is generally recognized in hindsight as  better. Every time we try to shrink it and say  

keep them out, leave them on the outside, we  recognize in hindsight how hideous that is,   so I think compassion as a compass for checking  in, is this action right? Is this policy right?   Gets you pretty far and I think that something  is right when it adds compassion to the world   and adds beauty to the world, and it's wrong  when it... when it subtracts compassion and   makes something less beautiful. Now - you  know - some of those things are subjective:   what is a beauty to you is maybe different than  it is to me, but for the most part I think we   know what ugliness looks like and we can quibble  about some of the edges of those kinds of things,   but I think those sorts of - you know - a  direction, a compass, a way of checking in,   I think, is more valuable than saying: well, this  policy is the thing, because circumstances change,   which policy should be the thing, but I... I'll  stick with that for the time being. Another thing   was... you mentioned the economic system that  we have as being a fundamental problem or maybe   the fundamental problem. And at one level I would  completely agree with you; at a slightly different  

level I would say any system delivers on its  values. You can have capitalism and business   if the main driver is compassion and trying  to float all boats. Communism, the way it was   practiced in the Soviet Union, for instance,  and the way it's practiced in China today.

is certainly as destructive of Nature and as  oppressive of people and freedom and dignity   as I would say as the worst kind of  capitalism is. Why is that? Because the values   that are driving them are similar. The values  are all about competition rather than compassion,   and all about getting more, wringing more  out of the natural world rather than finding   a way to live in... in a living world in which  everything thrives. And I think that we could live   in a living world in which everything thrives.  Humans did that for tens of thousands of years.  

I think we could adapt our technologies to doing  that as well, but we can't do it at the... at   the intensity and at the population level that  we have. One way that I easily envision this   is to think about, what is arguably my favorite  place in the world, Southeast Alaska. You can go   to Southeast Alaska and you can be in a very nice  boat, be on the internet, listen to good music,   send pictures to people; you have all of  the benefits of all of the technology that   we like to have, but every animal that is  supposed to live there, still lives there   and in great abundance. Why is  that? Because they simply have room.   If... you don't have to limit technology, but you  do have to leave room. That I think is the thing.   >>>I’ve done programs at the annual climate talks  "Nature needs half" as well the means so yeah,   Nature needs more than half, but half would  be a good start. >>>You know - I thought of  

that when I was in college. It was one of the  great ideas I had that I didn't...[laughs]   that I didn't really properly develop or advance,  but - you know - I mean just think about it:   Nature, the whole rest of the world, everything  that supports all life on Earth gets half and   one species gets half... that's not fair - you  know - a lot of people find that appalling:   'Oh my god! Giving half to Nature  well... that's... I think... I think...  

if we understood what we were talking about and  often the problem arises because we're not in the   same conversation, when we think we are, but  if we understood what we were talking about,   we would understand that Nature is what  we're... what makes life on Earth possible,   and to give Nature half is essentially to say...  well, we'll make life on Earth half as possible.   It... it's - as you say - maybe that's a  start, but that's really not what the goal   should be - you know - the goal should be  that... that we let life proliferate and thrive.   And we understand that we come from a deep  past, a deep history, in... in which the  

world has gone through many, many changes,  but what has been preserved is the process   of life and what is the process of life? Well,  first of all it's all the non-living cycles...   carbon cycle, the atmospheric composition,  the water cycle... these things that...   that can support what is alive and secondly,  it's the process of evolution by which life   survives, adapts and proliferates;  that's the process and we...

I don't know really, I don't really  know any major effort that has   that preserving the process of life on the  planet as its stated goal, which - when   you think about it - is... >>>Shocking.  >>>It is not psychologically well. >>>No,   no... I remember a time where I was  asked to do a workshop in Kuala Lumpur. And I’d been wanting to do something like this for  years. I was taking my own carbon footprint more  

and more seriously and unwilling to go just to do  a 45-minute speech, but I said, 'if you give me   a day to do a workshop that would be my worth  my going for' and the fellow who invited me,   introduced me to.... he was a Speaker in - I think  - the upper chamber of the Malaysian parliament.   And I went into his office and I... his English  was quite good, and I said, 'Here's one for you   that's conceptually very simple, won't be that  easy, but if you were able to do this, it would   transform your nation, Malaysia, and it would  put... thrust Malaysia into a position of world   leadership in a certain way' and he said 'Well,  what is it?' I said: 'If you could pass a law   that every business major had to study  ecology and ethics... that would transform   your business world and, by extension,  transform the international business world'   and he turned to the fellow who brought me to  his office and said 'Well, that's a good idea'.  

Needless to say, I never got done, but my question  to you is 'how do we take something that's even   more abstract than that, 'compassion' and I  won't say 'teach' it, but 'inculcate' that into   a society that... 'Hey show me the  money!' You know - how do we do that?   >>>Well, I don't know how... you I don't know  how you arrive at either of those things;   whether it's compassion or a 'show me the money',   unless somebody has taught you that  that's how we live. It's a cultural thing.   And I think your idea that everybody should  learn something about ecology and ethics is   absolutely fundamental; that's - you know -  that's a simple, but very brilliant statement. What could we be without an understanding of  ecology and without ethics? >>>And yet we turn   out business majors one after the other after the  other, who have no concept, who are taught not   to care at all, not one witness. >>>Well, that's  the thing - you know - they're taught compassion  

they're taught a kind of compassion that is  the exact opposite of what we call compassion,   which is... they're taught not to care; they're  taught that to win, someone must be made to lose.   And that's not a truth; that's a position.  When I was in high school I... Well,   I'm a musician. I used to play a lot of music  when I was in high school and through college,   and of course I was around a lot of sports teams,  because that's what there is in high school.   And the thing that struck me at that time was  the tremendous, basic difference between the   idea of getting together to play music and  getting together to play sports. In sports   the idea is you must win and winning makes...  winning happens because you've made someone lose.  

In music the idea is you must win and winning  happens because everybody wins. >>>WoW!   >>>Business could be like that; life could be  like that, but we teach... we teach a competitive   and I - you know - I don't want to sound like I'm  speaking in hyperbole, but we teach in destructive   and aggressive and, in some cases, vicious ways  of being. One of those are taught they're not...   that's not the way you just are, those things  are taught. >>>Yes, and I agree completely. I   mean in... in kindergarten the teachers try to  inculcate a model of cooperation and respect,  

but then - this is one I cite frequently  - we teach about our economic system,   call it capitalism, I don't like to use the word  because it engenders a knee-jerk... if you're   talking about capitalism. you must be a communist  - if you're talking negatively at all about   capitalism... so, but we teach about capitalism  with a very pernicious model of capitalism,   called 'monopoly', where you don't win,  when time is up, and you have the most;   you win by driving everyone else out of  business. >>>Yeah. >>>Lethally, gleefully.

>>>Yeah, I - you know - and that's why  I was kind of getting around to saying,   I don't think the problem is capitalism; I  think the problem is the way capitalism is done.   There's a lot of good things about  capitalism. I've been in business myself.   You can have a business that is a constructive  force, a fairly gentle force, one that has a   mission of helping accomplish something, or  you can have this vicious dangerous form of it. >>>So again, how do we move... how do we move  from where we are towards where we need to be,  

aside from you and I talking like this and  hoping... >>>Well, I think overall, as I said,   I think it's incredibly, incredibly difficult as  long as the human population continues to grow.   >>>Yeah. >>>And then - you know - there's  also... there's a lot of confused concepts  

that are used to run the world. One  is that the economic system must grow.   Well, let's try to come back to that, but let's  talk about the human population for a moment.   The human population seems on track to slow  its growth and maybe begin a very slow,   very long contraction. If you look at the overall  human population, you see that's still growing a   lot, but if you look at each country you see  that some countries are not growing at all,   some of them are actually declining slightly in  population, and very, very generally - although   there are exceptions - very generally it has a  lot to do with the full citizenship for women.   When women are full citizens and can own and  inherit things, can get loans for businesses,   have various kinds of authority, and can run and  hold run for and hold office, the choices they   make result very voluntarily in small families,  because the secret of rich people is that small   families give you bigger lives, and really large  families make everything hard for everybody. So,   in that sense the good news is that we seem to  be on track well after our lifetimes, I guess,   to have better conditions for more women,  resulting in a slowing and then a decline of   the human population trajectory, hurting no  one in the process, done purely voluntarily   by giving everyone what everyone wants, which is  dignity and the ability to make their own choices.  

So that's - I would say - the good news in a  sense I would say that's the best news I know. >>>So, you're actively involved now mostly in  writing or in lecturing? >>>Yeah, mostly in   writing and speaking, yeah, and I was - you know  - I was starting to say this confusion that exists   there... we have a lot of confused conversations  about very important things and one of them is   that the economy must grow and - you know - that's  a… that's a pyramid scheme really. The economy   must grow to give more people more things,  but to give a lot fewer people more things,   you don't have to grow the economy; in fact,  the economy could very comfortably shrink and   shrink and shrink, while individually  people could be doing quite well.  

And the other confusing thing is the idea that  bigger is better and that growth is the same   thing as development and improvement. If you look  at our bodily history, we had a period of growth,   which is focused mostly on growth, and then we  have had a period of improvement, where we try   to be better people, we learn more about what  life is about, we acquire some wisdom without   physically growing. What growth is it means to  put more material into your system. That's growth.   Improvement does not necessitate, and often can  only happen when you stop putting, needing to   put more material into the system. You can have  better education, better hospitals, better health,  

better - you know - better everything, better  jobs, without growing them or having more. If   you're focused on growth and having more, you  can't really focus on really improving things   and - you know - what is the only other  living thing for which growth is the entirety   of its design? >>>Cancer. >>>Right.  >>>I know that personally. >>>Yeah,   and it's destructive, it's destructive to  what makes it possible, its host platform.

>>>Yeah, I've seen the parallels in what I've got  and what in... in some regard I feel like I've   taken on my personal cancer in trying to help  cure or address the cancer that society's got.   >>>Yeah, unfortunately it's a  very apt metaphor, it's very apt.   >>>I'll make that even a little bit more quixotic  - shall we say - by introducing the idea that   I've haven't studied so I can't teach it, but  I've read and heard that the cancer process   is very similar in ways to the way  that an embryo will implant itself   in the placenta and grow into a baby,   initially with very rapid multiplication of  cells, but it's the act of being able to implant.   And because I believe that many of us  who don't have cancer, have cancerous   cells floating around in our bodies, which  are swept out with the trash regularly,   but it's the rare one that implants itself as  with an embryo and grows, because it's found   hypoxic conditions, anaerobic conditions.  That's what turns into the disease of cancer,  

so it... I bring that in, because for such a  destructive process to actually be an offshoot   of what is genetically the procreative  reproductive process kind of gives one pause. >>>Things go awry. >>>Yeah; you have some  food for thought in this year of change 2021.   >>>Okay, Yeah. >>>Thank you very much  for speaking with me today. >>>Oh,   well, it's a great honor to speak with you  and I really appreciate your interest in   what I have to say. >>>Yeah, okay take  care. >>>All right, Stuart, take care. you

2021-03-23 18:01

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