Next Wednesday is the Fall Equinox. The sun will rise due east and set due west, everywhere on the planet. On Wednesday, the sun will be directly above the equator as it moves swiftly from the northern to the southern hemisphere.
The Fall Equinox also marks the beginning of the ninth year of Living on the Earth broadcasts. These essays have been, and still are, dedicated to the proposition that we need to evolve a new relationship with our planet. Understanding the flows and cycles of the natural world, we should use direct, energy-efficient, and environmentally-sound approaches to fulfill our basic needs. These approaches will include wider solar energy-use and a greater reliance on the bounty of green plants. Individual actions, education and community alliances are needed to work toward a future we can look forward to and live with, all over the Earth.
Almost every day now new evidence points to severe problems in our relationship with this planet. The more we pay attention, the more things there are to worry about. Many of our problems - from the massive species extinction and habitat destruction to changes in the climate - are the unintended consequences of human actions. More frequently, unexpectedly-violent or "worst-of-the-century" weather events seem to confirm the worries of climate experts. Signs from Antarctica to Alaska, from old growth forests to inner city neighborhoods and the global financial system, point to large-scale social and environmental changes and instabilities.
Hundreds of millions of people around the world don't even have enough to satisfy their basic needs for water, food and shelter. Factor in those whose health or educational needs aren't realized, and the numbers rise into the billions. Yet, the global production juggernaut keeps creating more material goods for those who already have too much, always encouraging greater consumption, even in these times when this behavior is so conspicuous.
The poor of the world don't need cars, computers, cell phones, fast-food restaurants or television shows. They don't even need genetic engineering. They need 2,000 calories of food a day, potable water, positive role models, and peace.
Meanwhile, many people in this and other wealthy countries could do quite well with less consumption, too. Junk and unhealthy foods, television shows, automobiles, toxic chemicals, alcohol and tobacco are just some of the goods whose shrinking consumption could improve health and the environment. Yet the perverse logic of global capitalism considers all of these goods, as well as traffic accidents, hurricanes, floods and expensive medical problems as positive in its accounting system. The more costly the problems are, the bigger their positive impact is on the global economy.
This system creates less self-reliance and greater dependence on distant sources nearly everywhere, while its side effects (from climate change to global financial problems) argue for the opposite.
Our situation is well-illustrated by a humorous message from the Internet quoted recently in the New York Times. This communication between a US navel ship and Canadian authorities; hopefully isn't true.
The Canadians politely ask the American vessel to change its course to the south in order to avoid a collision. The US responds, "No, you change course to the north to avoid a collision." After the Canadians reply, "Divert your course to the south," and the Americans retort, "No, you divert your course to the north," the Americans become threatening. They give a description of the vessel in question - a very large aircraft carrier accompanied by destroyers, cruisers and other vessels - and demand that the Canadians change course or be subject to being blown up. The Canadians respond calmly: "This is a lighthouse. Your call."
The dominant culture is so focused on increasing consumption, and so distracted by events which are trivial compared to our survival on Earth, that it ignores the most blatant warnings as it speeds straight ahead toward a brick wall.
It's comforting to know, however that there's a steadily rising undercurrent of practical opposition to this system from those who take the warnings seriously. People are increasing pleasure by decreasing consumption and making more intelligent choices: gardening, staying home, using solar energy, reading, talking, walking, and simplifying life.
Thanks to my listeners who've shared stories of their successes along this path.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
This page and its contents are copyright © 1998 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.