Sunday, July 13, 2008


Oil prices are soaring. Fanny May and Freddy Mac are collapsing. Food riots are spreading. Biodiversity is going down the tubes. We gotta save the planet.

NY Times science writer Andrew Revkin has been focused on the many challenges that a world heading toward 9,000,000,000 people presents. He recently put out an intriguing juxtaposition of the renown ecologist E.O. Wilson and the also renown comedian George Carlin at his DotEarth blog -- "Wilson's Law (and Carlin's rant)".

Here is Carlin's rant:

Written transcript of Carlin's rant here.

Seriously, I do wonder about all the moralizing about the human condition and the seeming emphasis on realizing the "new human being" in order to solve our problems. We are incessantly told that we must become the new Christian, or the new Socialist, or the new Altruist, or the new Humanist, or the new Eco or Planetary Citizen.

I've got to say that I'm skeptical. Human beings tend to be profligate, at the least they multiply and they waste. Not only that, but they have learned that scarcity can contribute to profit (for some) and that it can serve the goals of wealth, status and power (again for some). Yes, education has fallen prey to manipulation. This is exactly the outcome of the the scarcity paradigm.

I no longer have faith in the commonly offered remedy of waiting for the emergence of a nobler human being. It's almost like waiting for the Messiah to arrive to deliver us. With no disrespect intended for the saints and great souls who have offered us such deliverance, I must say that our more human qualities seem to prevail and that Malthus might have been right in saying that, like all other animals, human populations will exceed the carrying capacity of their niche and collapse. It's a harsh view.

But -- the BIG BUT -- there is a possibility that there is nothing really wrong with humans other that we have been functioning within a paradigm that is depleting -- that what we take or eat or use is at the expense of others. Because scarcity was the pre-condition from which modernity arose, we arrived at it habituated, not free from want but as fighters for survival, as individual, tribal, national or corporate competitors for the earth's resources. We are, in the words of Daniel Quinn, "takers" and not "leavers".

And also we are embedded in a culture and consciousness that is changing rapidly. The so-called "information age" is ushering in another possibility that we might profitably become "givers", that service to others may actually generate previously unimagined opportunities for wealth and abundance. This is the "google principle" of generating totally new business models by giving something away. It makes me think that Saint Francis might have been offering a formula about how reality works when he said that "it is more blessed to give than to receive". Perhaps we need less morality and more reality.

I believe that the "flaw" is not that the humans are voracious and wasteful but that the system depletes resources and sends the wastes to the wrong places -- to the air and the water -- when they need to be given back to the earth. Our extractions and depletions ultimately exhaust everything from oil to humans. In my opinion we must promote an awareness that giving back to the earth is the path toward abundance and that reciprocity is more beneficial for EVERYBODY than is depletion. The challenge is to place the same old wasteful human being into an ecological matrix where we may become a blessing rather than a curse upon the earth.

The soil is sacred. It is the mother, the placenta that feeds all new birth. Back in Oregon I learned that a cubic meter of mature temperate rainforest soil contains approximately 35,000 separate species and over 2 billion individual organisms. The scientists were quick to point out that that the forest of gigantic trees was a mere symbol or consequence of this awesome soil universe.

To realize and honor the earth under our feet -- the soil -- is holy, whole and wholesome. The recent explosion of interest in biochar (the modern version of the ancient Amazon agricultural
soil technology of Terra Preta de Indios) is surely driven by a search for solutions for the some of the world's greatest problems -- deforestation, climate change, hunger and energy scarcity. It is also something more. It is a quest for how humans might achieve a life of balance and prosperity on earth.

[Update - 25 July 2008: Richard Haard has a fine "hands-on" article about biochar here. And there's more information that I reported previously here and on-going updates from biocharfund and terracarbona.]

The thought that hooks me on this lovely Sunday morning in Brasilia is that we waste too much time blaming, criticizing, correcting, reforming or revolutionizing one another instead of discovering the most useful ways for realizing the beautiful gift of what we already are. Following Genesis, I believe that we were given dominion over the earth, but as caretakers of the soil, as gardeners rather than as miners. This is the way out of the Malthusian dilemma.

OK. End of Sunday morning sermon. Thanks for listening.

hugs and blessings,


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