Earth In The Balance: Ecology And The Human Spirit
Reader Part I Balance At Risk
Foward by Tangy Verdell, 2003
Earth In Balance is not a book about the environment, per se. It’s about synergy between humanity, politics, and the environment. This book addresses the question of why we choose an apocalyptic future. Gore's analyzes the human condition, our psyche, and our motivations. Through this careful analysis, he has developed a working plan for our plight. Al Gore is a humanist and an environmentalist. These traits comprised with his insight, vision and leadership abilities give us a beacon of hope for true peace and prosperity.
This Earth In The Balance Reader is divided into three parts. Parts I and II contains excerpts which will give you insight into the thinking of Al Gore as he analyses our situation. You will see that Gore understands the core problem of the human condition and he articulates ever so poetically. I think you will be surprised and excited.
Part III will cover Gore’s Global Marshall Plan. This is Gore’s proposed plan for fostering a healthy environment, solving the problems of hunger and disease, raising the living standards of third world countries, and creating an economic boom. Yes, we can have it all, if we really want it.
Lastly, after reading this you need to reflect. Think about what you want. Think about what future you want for your children. Then think about how we are going to get there. We have a great opportunity to empower a man that will give us the leadership to this future. The ball is in our court. We have to return a winner. I fear if we do not, we will not get this opportunity again.
The ecological perspective begins with a view of the whole, an understanding of how the various parts of nature interact in patterns that tend toward balance and persist over time. But this perspective cannot treat the earth as something separate from human civilization; we are part of the whole too, and looking at it ultimately means also looking at ourselves. And if we do not see that the human part of nature has an increasingly powerful influence over the whole of nature – that we are, in effect, a natural force just like the winds and the tides – then we will not be able to see how dangerously we are threatening to push the earth out of balance.
-- Introduction, page 2
I have therefore come to believe that the world’s ecological balance depends on more than just our ability to restore a balance between civilization’s ravenous appetite for resources and the fragile equilibrium of the earth’s environment; it depends on more, even, than our ability to restore a balance between ourselves as individuals and the civilization we aspire to create and sustain. In the end, we must restore a balance within ourselves between who we are and what we are doing. Each of us must take a greater personal responsibility for this deteriorating global environment; each of us must take a hard look at the habits of mind and action that reflect – and have led to – this grave crisis.
The need for personal equilibrium can be described in an even simpler way. The more deeply I search for the roots of the global environmental crisis, the more I am convinced that it is an outer manifestation of an inner crisis that is, for lack of a better word, spiritual. As a politician, I know full well the special hazards of using “spiritual” to describe a problem like this one. For many, it is like one of those signs that warns a motorist, Steep Slope – Truckers Use Brakes. But what other word describes the collection of values and assumptions that determine our basic understanding of how we fit into the universe?
-- Introduction, page 12
Ships In The Desert
With our backs turned to the place in nature from which we came, we sense an unfamiliar tide rising and swirling around our ankles, pulling at the sand beneath our feet. Each time this strange new tide goes out, it leaves behind the flotsam and jetsam of some giant shipwreck far out at sea, startling images washed up on the sands of our time, each a fresh warning of hidden dangers that lie ahead if we continue on our present course.
-- Ships In The Desert, page 21
Perhaps one part of the answer lies in the perceived difficulty of an effective response. If the problem portrayed in the image is one whose solution appears to involve more effort or sacrifice than we can readily imagine, or if even maximum effort by any one individual would fail to prevent the tragedy, we are tempted to sever the link between stimulus and moral response. Then, once a response is deemed impossible, the image that briefly caused us to consider responding becomes not just startling but painful. At that point, we begin to react not to the image but to the pain it now produces, thus severing a more basic link in our relationship to the world: the link between our senses and our emotions. Our eyes glaze over as our hearts close. We look but we don’t see. We hear but we refuse to listen.
-- Ships In The Desert, page 28
Human civilization is not the dominant cause of change in the global environment. Yet we resist this truth and find it hard to imagine that our effect on the earth must now be measured by the same yardstick used to calculate the strength of the moon’s pull on the oceans or the force of the wind against the mountains. And if we are not capable of changing something so basic as the relationship between the earth and the sun, surely we must acknowledge a new responsibility to use that power wisely and with appropriate restraint. So far, however, we seem oblivious of the fragility of the earth’s natural systems.
-- Ships In The Desert, page 30
The Shadow Our Future Throws
Of course, there is always a degree of uncertainty about complex issues, and careful study is always necessary, but it is all too easy to exaggerate the uncertainty and overstudy the problem – and some people do just that – in order to avoid an uncomfortable conclusion.
-- The Shadow Our Future Throws, page 36
After years of debate and attempts to convince skeptics that the time for delay is over, I am resigned to the idea that even though we already know more than enough, we must also thoroughly investigate any significant scientific uncertainty that impedes our ability to come together and face this crisis. The knowledge thus gained will not only deprive the skeptics of some of their excuses for procrastination, it will also help us choose strategies for responding to the crisis, identify the most effective and least costly solutions, and solidify public support for the increasingly comprehensive changes that will be necessary.
-- The Shadow Our Future Throws, page 37
The answer, in my opinion, is fear; too often we don’t let ourselves see a pattern because we are afraid of its implications. Indeed, sometimes the implications suggest dramatic changes in our way of life. And, of course, those who have the heaviest investment in the status quo – whether is economic, political, intellectual, or emotional – often organize ferocious resistance to the new pattern regardless of the evidence.
-- The Shadow Our Future Throws, page 40
But most of us act as if we don’t perceive a collision at all, partly because of the crunching and crushing and shattering all take place over a longer time span than we associate with a violent collision. We are not unlike the laboratory frog that, when dropped into a pot of boiling water, quickly jumps out. But when placed in luke-warm water that is slowly heated, the frog will remain there until is rescued.
-- The Shadow Our Future Throws, page 42
The same challenge confronts us now, as we try to comprehend what we are doing to the earth. Even though the pattern of our relationship to the environment has undergone a profound transformation, most people still do not see the new pattern – partly because it is global and we are not used to such a large, spatial perspective. The sights and sounds of this change are spread over an area too large for us to hold in our field of awareness. The only way we can hope to understand it is to imagine it from a new and distant perspective, not unlike the one from which the earth was first perceived as round instead of flat.
-- The Shadow Our Future Throws, page 44
Soon we will learn to recognize crescendos in human affairs more easily – and see that they frequently signal the beginning of systemic, chaotic change from one form of equilibrium to another. Such a crescendo now seems apparent in the wave upon wave of discordant calls of distress form every corner of the globe. The relationship between human civilization and the earth is now in a state that theorists of change would describe as disequilibrium.
-- The Shadow Our Future Throws, page 47
Our challenge is to accelerate the needed change in thinking about our relationship to the environment in order to shift the pattern of our civilization to a new equilibrium – before the world’s ecological system loses its current one. This change in thinking will also follow the pattern described in Chaos Theory, with little change evident until a threshold is passed, and then, as key assumptions are modified, a flood of dramatic changes will occur all at once.
-- The Shadow Our Future Throws, page 48
Climate and Civilization: A Short History
If we do not, if we instead persist in our willful ignorance of powerful changes we are setting in motion, we may ultimately leave little more than a mystery to puzzle some new human community in the distant future, trying to understand what happened to the ancient lost civilization that made such grand structures of concrete and steel and plastic so long ago.
-- Climate and Civilization: A Short History, page 80
An increasingly imaginative search for excuses to do nothing continues, but thus far the accumulated evidence suggests that the only thermostat capable of counteracting these reckless environmental changes is the one in our heads and hearts – and it is under our control.
-- Buddha’s Breath, page 91
If the Well Goes Dry
We need instead to lasso our common sense. The rains bring us trees and flowers; the droughts bring gaping cracks in the world. The lakes and rivers sustain us; they flow through the veins of the earth and into our own. But we must take care to let them flow back out as pure as they came, not poison and waste them without thought for the future.
-- If the Well Goes Dry, page 114
But the key to reversing the current pattern of destruction and beginning the process of restoration and recovery is to dramatically change attitudes and to remove the constant pressures exerted by population growth, greed, short-term thinking, and misguided development.
-- Skin Deep, page 125
Seeds of Pirvation
Our inability to provide adequate protection for the world’s food supply is, in my opinion, simply another manifestation of the same philosophical error that has led to the global environmental crisis as a whole: we have assumed that our lives need have no real connection to the natural world, that our minds are separate from our bodies, and that as disembodied intellects we can manipulate the world in any way we choose. Precisely because we feel no connection to the physical world, we trivialize the consequences of our actions. And because this linkage seems abstract, we are slow to understand what it means to destroy those parts of the environment that are crucial to our survival. We are, in effect, bulldozing the Gardens of Eden.
-- Seeds of Privation, page 144
If the need to rethink our throwaway mentality has become obvious, it is also clear that the effort has to involve more than a search for mechanical solutions. I have come to believe that the waste crisis â€“ like the environmental crisis as a whole â€“ serves as a kind of mirror in which we are able to see ourselves more clearly if we are willing to question more deeply who we are and who we want to be, both as individuals and as a civilization. Indeed, in some ways the waste crisis serves as perhaps the best vehicle for asking some hard questions about ourselves.
For example, if we have come to see the things we use as disposable, have we similarly transformed the way we think about our fellow human beings? Mass civilizations has led to the creation of impersonal, almost industrial, processes for educating, employing, sheltering, feeding, clothing, and disposing of billions of people. Have we, in the process, lost an appreciation for the uniqueness of each one? Have we made it easier to give up on someone who needs extra attention or repair? Traditional societies venerate the oldest among them as unique repositories of character and wisdom. We, however, are all to willing to throw them away, to think of them as used up, no longer able to produce new things to consume. We mass-produce information and in the process devalue the wisdom of a lifetime, assuming that it can easily be replaced by skimming a froth of essential data off the floodtide of information rushing through our culture. For similar reasons, we have devalued the importance of education (even as we increase the lip service we pay it). Education is the recycling of knowledge, and since we have emphasized the production and constant consumption of massive quantities of information, we donâ€™t feel the same need to respect and reuse the refined accumulation of learning treasured by those who have come before us.
At times, we still marvel at the way another human being manifests the experience of life, but that sense of wonder seems more difficult to sustain now, perhaps because we have devalued the idea of commitment to others â€“ whether to latchkey children, ailing parents, abandoned spouses, neglected friends and neighbors, or indeed any of our fellow citizens. One of the most horrifying examples of our degraded appreciation of the individual is a new category among the homeless called throwaway children, children who are thrown out of their homes because they have become too difficult to handle or because their parent or parents no longer have the extra time for their special needs. And every so often we read about a newborn baby literally thrown into a garbage can or a trash compactor because the mother is for whatever reason overwhelmed by the prospect of raising the child and despairs of finding the understanding and assistance she needs in our society. Throw-away children: nothing could better illustrate my strong belief that the worst of all forms of pollution is wasted lives.
By definition, a wasted life is one that is seen as having no value in the context of human society. Similarly, if we see ourselves as separate from the earth, we find it easy to devalue the earth. The two issues â€“ wasting lives and wasting the earth â€“ are intimately connected, because until we see that all life is precious, we will continue to degrade both the human community and the natural world. Consider these words from a homeless eight-year-old boy in New York City in 1990: â€œWhen our baby die we start to sit by the window. We just sit and sit all wrapped up quiet in old shirts anâ€™ watch pigeons. That pigeon she fly so fast. She move nice. A real pretty flier. She open her mouth and take in the wind. We just spread out crumbs, me and my [four-year-old] brother. And we wait. Sit and wait, there under the window sill. She donâ€™t even see us till we slam down the window. And she break. She look with one eye. She donâ€™t die right away. We dip her in, over and over, in the water pot we boils on the hot plate. We wanna see how it be to die slow like our baby dieâ€.
If we feel no connection to those in our own communities whose lives are being wasted, who are we? Ultimately, as we lose our place in the larger context in which we used to define our purpose, the sense of community disappears, the feeling of belonging dissipates, the meaning of life itself slips from our grasp.
Believing ourselves to be separate from the earth means having no idea how we fit into the natural cycle of life and no understanding of the natural processes of change that affect us and that we in turn are affecting. It means that we attempt to chart the course of our civilization by reference to ourselves alone. No wonder we are lost and confused. No wonder so many people feel their lives are wasted. Our species used to flourish within the intricate and interdependent web of life, but we have chosen to leave the garden. Unless we find a way to dramatically change our civilization and our way of thinking abut the relationship between humankind and the earth, our children will inherit a wasteland.
-- The Wasteland, page 161
Read on to part two of Earth in the Balance here!