Stephanie Black has posted a long and thoughtful comment to How to change the world. I have learned some of the answers to her questions from Pip Lipkin, who is the hero of my novel, Ascending Spiral.
Here is how Pip finishes his book:
There are only two kinds of people on this planet: Greenies and Suicides. I’ve been a conservationist since before 1968, the birth of my first child.
Join me, or die.
We live on a beautiful planet, an incredibly complex symbiosis of a myriad species, all acting together in a symphony of life. One species has gone rampant, and is killing everything. Did you know, two recent large-scale studies have shown that one fifth of all plant species are at risk of extinction, and one fifth of all vertebrate species are at risk of extinction? This hasn’t happened since the passing of the dinosaurs. We are now officially in the sixth extinction event of Earth, with extinction rates 100 times higher than they should be. [Note: Since Pip wrote that, the figure has been upgraded to over 1000 times.]
It’s not either them or us. When they die, when the other life forms that make up our ecosphere die, we will go with them. Our life is intricately bound to that of everything else.
If you believe my account, you’ll know that I am here either to witness the destruction of humanity, or to help to stop this tragedy. Join my team. Work for hope and survival.
Even if you don’t believe my account—it’s only fiction, right?—you should still join my team. Don’t believe me; believe the evidence.
In 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring. The world took note—sort of. We stopped using DDT, but replaced it with a devil’s brew of an endlessly growing list of never-before-encountered chemicals. Do an internet search, and you’ll find that human breast milk often contains dangerous levels of carcinogens.
We’re replacing nature with cities.
We use fresh water for human purposes at a rate higher than global rainfall over land, mining the underground aquifers.
Forests are the lungs of the planet; we are destroying them at an ever-increasing rate.
Marine fish have fed humans since the beginning of time. We’ve harvested them way above replacement rate so that what were once commercial species are now rarities, or completely gone. And so on, ad infinitum.
It’s like ripping the door off your house to use as fuel for cooking your food. You can only do things like that for so long, then there is no house.
Why are we doing this?
Because the global civilization that is destroying us is a toddler. Think of a lovely two year old child. She is characterized by an incredible level of energy, and an incredible rate of growth. Her two key words are: “No!” and “Mine!”
That’s us, isn’t it? Only, a toddler is prevented from destroying herself by (hopefully) loving older people who know better. There are no adults to pull us out of our childish acts. We need to do it for ourselves.
A toddler cannot see beyond the wants of the moment. On that basis, most humans are toddlers. Ask the average person what’s life about, and you’ll get, “Trying to be happy, I suppose.” This endless, self-indulgent scramble for happiness is in fact the greatest cause of unhappiness. People fill their lives with things that cost the earth, and still need more because the things don’t make the meaninglessness go away.
Why did those Vikings raid Sheilagh’s village? They were harvesting trading stock: young women and children. Why did the British Empire destroy Dermot’s land? To provide fleece for the English textile industry. Why did George Bush attack Iraq in a search for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction? Because Iraq has oil under the ground. It’s all greed: the childish “Mine! I want it and I want more of it without limit and if you stop me you’re bad and so I have the right to hit you.”
The Roman Empire transformed the Sahara from its breadbasket into what it is now. An earlier civilization, that of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, created the Indus Valley desert. And remember the dustbowl of the Midwest? Now our civilization is global, and having learnt nothing from history, we’re on the way to creating a global desert.
Suppose a Space Flower, one of my kind, appeared in our solar system. This globe the size of Mars starts to orbit Earth, causing 100-meter tides, and is preparing to blast our atmosphere out of the way so It can mine our uranium.
Wouldn’t all humanity unite to seek survival? Peaceful or hostile, one way or another we’d have to pull together, or die together.
We now face an equal danger. Do nothing, continue business as usual, and we’ll all die together.
There is hope, or I wouldn’t have been told to be an instrument of hope. It’s not too late.
But what can we do?
Live simply, so you may simply live.
Replace a toddler culture with an adult culture: “No!” with “How can we cooperate?” “Mine” with “Ours.” Instead of caring for things, we need to care for each other.
The Economy is the enemy. Economic growth is a cancer. We need to cure our addiction to it. Now. If all humanity pulls together against this common enemy, we can do it.
Of course, we can’t leave this to the people in power. They get the most benefit, at the most cost to others. Sure, when we die they’ll be included, but they blind themselves to the fact. That’s how cognitive dissonance works, by discounting uncomfortable evidence.
But leaders are powerless to lead if they go in a different direction from their followers. They become isolated loners. So, if you, I, millions of people, change course, we can transform the world.
My task is to inspire you to want a future for your kids, your grandkids, and their grandkids in perpetuity. Change “I want happiness now” to “I want a decent life for me, you and everyone else in harmony,” and we’re on the way.
Remember John Calhoun’s experiment with the response of rats to crowding? Mammals, perhaps all animals, have automatic responses that reduce population when it has become too large. Our culture is crazy because the same forces are acting on us. If we don’t reduce population in a kind, cooperative, sensible way, it’ll be reduced through war and disease and mutual viciousness. Look around: it’s been happening for years. Having a baby is no longer a private matter. It affects everyone.
The other consideration is making your slice of the pie smaller. Live simply so that you may simply live. I cannot say that often enough. Let’s reform society so that it is no longer a cancer on the planet. Greed, the toddler’s greed, is deadly. I’ve found a great deal of joy and satisfaction through living by the rule: THE MORE YOU GIVE, THE MORE YOU GET. Try it. Or you can copy my Uncle Paul and die with millions of dollars your heirs can fight over. What would you rather leave behind: people who bless you every time they remember you, or wrecked lives for the sake of a bank account? Only two things matter in life: what you take with you when you die, and what you leave behind in the hearts of others. Everything else is Monopoly money.
We can save humanity, and create a decent future, although it’s now almost too late. People have already been killed by the epidemic of cancer and other pollution-induced diseases, by crazy wars, by increasingly worse extreme weather events like floods and wildfires and droughts. This will increase, whatever we do, but we can work to minimize the tragedy. We can compassionately look after those who are already affected.
And, actually, as my story shows, the outcome doesn’t matter. What matters is that we do our best.
I dislocated a shoulder in 2009. About two months later, my rehabilitation homework was to play basketball with myself. This is brilliant: increasing strength, flexibility and self-confidence in a pleasurable way.
OK, I shoot for the basket and get it in. Beauty. I shoot again and miss. So what—I’m still exercising my shoulder.
We are on this planet for a purpose. This is not to make money or to be better than the neighbor. It is to learn Lessons, to progress toward the ultimate lesson of Love, the message of Jesus (and this is from a Buddhist Jew).
So, if you join my team and we create a sustainable society, beauty. But if we miss and humanity goes the way of the Dodo, so what. If the students destroy this school, let me reassure you: there are billions of other schools in the universe.
If I am prevented from returning to being a Space Flower, you and I might meet as tentacled people swimming in some sea, or as stable energy patterns in the magma of a planet, or as complex clouds floating in the atmosphere of some gas planet resembling Jupiter. Or of course we could be oxygen breathing carbon-based life forms like humans, or the walking plants of my immediately previous existence.
But it would be nice to score that goal, and to maintain life—decent life—for humans on Earth.
Join my team.