Thursday, June 26, 2014

Hope on Earth

Hope on Earth, is a highly engaging dialogue between two  remarkable human beings,  Stanford Professor Paul Ehrlich, President of Stanford’s Center for Conservation Biology,  and global ecologist/author/anthropologist/filmmaker Michael Tobias.   Ehrlich is best known for The Population Bomb, a book co-written with his wife Anne more than four decades ago.  I should mention that I was a young man when I read the Ehrlich’s book back when it first came out.  Chilling as its message was, then and now, that book had a profound impact on my understanding of the world.  Dr. Tobias’ work is also well known to me. He is the author of more than fifty books, including World War III – Population and the Biosphere at the End of the Millennium and, with his colleague, partner, and wife, Jane Gray Morrison,  Sanctuary – Global Oasis of Innocence. Tobias has also had a distinguished career as a film maker – more than 150 productions - on subjects (mostly non-fiction, but some fiction) related to animal rights’, biodiversity, and humanity’s tenuous relationship with the environment.  Tobias is also the long-time President of The Dancing Star Foundation, a global animal protection, biodiversity conservation, and environmental education non-profit.

Both men have spent much of  their lives investigating and reporting on the massively expanded pressure on our biosphere caused by human population growth.  To put this in perspective, the number of people on Earth when The Population Bomb was first published in 1968 was 3.5 billion. In all of human history, it took till then to get to 3.5 billion. In the 46 years since that time, the population has more than doubled to 7.25 billion. This massive human expansion is not sustainable. The Earth’s resources are finite. We humans are pushing our freshwater, our farmland, our forests, our marine resources rapidly  to exhaustion. Our dependence on fossil fuels like oil and coal is pumping billions of tons of pollutants into the Earth’s atmosphere, causing a planetary warming that puts the very livability of our tiny dot in the galaxy at great risk. Human exploitation is pushing unprecedented numbers of plant and animal species to the point of extinction.  In fact, the consensus seems to be, for humanity to live within the planet’s long term ability to provide sustenance for most sentient beings, including Homo Sapiens,  the human population should no more than about one to two billion.  The current condition for humanity is one of extreme overreach.  Can we turn it around? Can we change our ways sufficiently to roll back  human demand so it does not exceed the planet’s ability to provide?   

Ehrlich and Tobias are skeptical. Despite that, they remain hopeful. They have both  been aggressively sounding a warning for decades. They both clearly detest the general state of public indifference, and even hostility in some cases,  despite the powerful warning signals we are getting from nature; signals like the melting of our glaciers and the collapse of the polar icecaps, the increasing incidents of extreme draught, wildfire, floods, and massive and highly destructive weather events like Hurricane Sandy and Super Typhoon Haiyan. 

In Hope on Earth, Ehrlich warns, “The past is over. We’re here now, and we’d better damn well make our ethical decisions.”  He goes on to say, “If we don’t solve the issues of population growth and consumption, all the rest of these issues won’t stand a chance of being remedied.”

Ehrlich and Tobias agree that humanity must find a path to achieving critical mass in awareness, and beyond that, a thoughtful, ethical approach to the unprecedented global-scale challenges that have emerged. The course we are on is a dead end.

I really enjoyed reading Hope on Earth. In the end, it is a dialogue about ethics. I loved being a fly on the wall, absorbing this great conversation between two exceptional minds, who understand and care deeply about the ugly turn human history has taken. Their prescription: Wake up and embrace a life-affirming cultural paradigm built on a foundation of compassion, and commitment to planetary stewardship. Do it now, before it is too late.

I give five stars to Hope on Earth. Highest recommendation.

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