Posts Tagged ‘Bill McKibben’

To market, to market

August 24, 2012

Mitt unveiled his energy plan yesterday, with not a word about climate. Let the genius of the market sort oil from wind and sun, he said. Meanwhile, his policy seems simply to be drill baby drill. Squeeze out every last drop and fume of fossil fuel, as quickly as possible, so we can be “energy independent.”

Michael Sandel diagnosed the recent history of this mindset accurately in What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets:

The most fateful change that unfolded during the past three decades was not an increase in greed. It was the expansion of markets, and of market values, into spheres of life where they don’t belong.

And Bill McKibben doesn’t pussyfoot about the standard-bearer’s loose standards. “He is to atmospheric science what Todd Akin is to obstetrics.”

But enough of that non-reality based community, it’s time at last to head my fossil fuel burner down the road to school. In our only annual meeting of the whole, the entire faculty (minus a few rogue malcontents and boycotters) will gather again in Tucker Auditorium this morning to launch the academic year and open the marketplace of ideas.  I can’t wait. Caveat emptor.

Posthuman philosophy and the Big Questions

January 27, 2012

One of the many interesting turns in yesterday’s A&P discussion came when someone suggested that it’s presumptuous of nonbelievers to assume the ultimate explanation of life and existence must necessarily be scientific. How do we know we’re not  so low on the evolutionary escalator that all our big categories (including “scientific” and “religious”) won’t eventually be swallowed up by forms of intelligence we can’t begin now to fathom? Perhaps our heated debates about god and cosmology will all be left in the dustbin of natural history.

I think that’s an intriguing suggestion. Pride does goeth before a fall, and while we have come a long way from stone knives and bearskins we still need to eat our humble pie. Is anyone besides John Horgan still talking about the “end of science” these days, let alone the end of inquiry? It’s thrilling to think of the human adventure as only the “beginning of infinity.” (That’s Isaac Asimov‘s phrase in End of Eternity, lately exapted by David Deutsch [On Point].) Maybe a wholly different spectrum of light will be shed, when our great- great-whatevers find a way to see through all that opaque Dark Matter. But of course that’s going to take awhile.

The transhumanists think we can speed the process along, through the adept deployment of new life technologies. In his “Prolegomena to Any Future Philosophy” Mark Walker (reported Bill McKibbben in Enough) says we should

create beings who are as far removed from us in intelligence as we are from apes,” and then wait for them to provide the answers… They would, he writes, be godlike. And then they could provide the theory of everything.

In Remaking Eden Lee Silver imagines posthuman philosophers of the remote future finally answering the Big Questions:

  • Where did the universe come from?
  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • What is the meaning of conscious existence?

Will those philosophers be scientists or religionists? Will they have a pious bone in their bodies, or a reverential electrode in their neural nets, or…? Will anything to them be sacred?

It’s impossible to say, and for some of us it’s hard to care what they’ll say. We’re the ones asking those questions right now. We have to fashion our answers with the conceptual tools we’ve got, not the ones we’d like to imagine. (Is that the philosophical analogue of the Rumsfeld Doctrine?)

And so it’s entirely predictable that mere humans will continue to choose sides between science and religion, theism and atheism, etc., and will continue to be tone-deaf or just indifferent to the other side. I just hope we’ll all continue to be as agreeably disagreeable as the students in A&P have been, so far. Let’s make those posthumans proud.

“We have to rid ourselves of the illusion that we are separate from Gaia in any way.”

April 11, 2011

We finish Vanishing Face of Gaia today in NW. I haven’t quite decided whether James Lovelock is wise in the “indigenous” sense, or if the native holism we encountered in Wildcat, Eagle Man, and Cajete is quite his. Disparaging references to our “tribal” limitations abound, and we already noted his reservations about shamanistic “alt-med.”

But I do think there’s a clear convergence of views here, between Lovelock’s Gaia and the natives’ Mother Earth. Like aboriginal peoples everywhere, he always simply “wanted to live naturally and respect wildlife and wilderness.” He, too, values balance and harmony. And, he and they agree that she– call her what you will– holds the key to our fate.

His native place was the gauzily-recalled, delight-giving countryside of Surrey, before it was decimated by industrial mechanized agriculture. Was it ever really so innocent? Maybe not, but it was so much more (and less) than a

life-support system for agribusiness farms, sewage disposal plants, reservoirs, and now vast alternative energy sites…  What is left of the countryside is fast becoming a set of theme parks with easy access to motorways.

Lovelock’s childhood taught him the names of plants and an intense love of the natural world. He was personifying nature long before he learned to call her Gaia. He was green when green wasn’t cool.

But then came the ’70s urban-centered environmental movement, which he thinks took a wrong turn towards anthropocentrism and away from close contact with real nature. He took a few wrong turns himself, with biofuels, grasses, trees, and potatoes.

Speaking of trees: did you see yesterday’s Times story on cloning redwoods? [slides]

“We want to get the biggest, best genetic representations of the species,” said David Milarch, the co-founder of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive. “And make millions and millions and millions of them.”

Mr. Milarch, who preaches his love for all things arboreal with an evangelical zeal, says that his mission is simple, if grandiose: to reforest the land with a variety of the most interesting tree species from around the world, and by extension, halt and reverse climate change.

Don’t know if it will work, but the Lorax would be pleased. We’ve got enough thneeds. But Lovelock is suspicious of efforts to rush Gaia’s own deliberate, self-seeding pace. “Being an impatient man my next mistake was to assume that a return to nature could be hastened by planting trees.” (Cloned or not.) The point is, a forest ecosystem is biodiverse. If all you see is the trees, you miss that.

On the other hand… a tree is also an idea that, when rooted in your mind, helps you think longer-term. That’s what Arbor Day is for: transcendence. It’s the grandpa tree, the giving tree, “the ability to move beyond the end,” the trans-end-dance.

The concept of “environmentally friendly energy,” he says, is flawed, ideologically driven, and a boon to greedy profiteers. We can discuss this, but I’m not yet persuaded– except on point #3, and there we may just have to hold our noses and let the profit motive work for everyone if it can.

Rachel Carson’s “watershed” Silent Spring made Lovelock recognize himself as an Old School evironmentalist, less militant and partisan than today’s activists. He takes some blame for that, with his CFC-measuring ECD. In some ways Lovelock is responsible for Al Gore. (Or as George Bush #41 called him, “Ozone Man.”)

Liberal humanists like me think of environmentalism as a species of humanism– we think of everything that way– and we like the symbolism of windmills. Apparently we’re misguided, though not  for the usual reasons. Does wanting your species to flourish really make you a speciesist, if you also understand that your good is inseparable from that of your living host (the world)? Is it so bad?

Lovelock’s time in the American Bible belt impressed him with the “benign ethic” of Southern Baptists. “Benign?” But he just means that the treasured old southern institution of B-Y-O-B, in so-called “dry” establishments, makes that part of the world safe, though just to a point, for puritan moralism. You can have your temperance movement and your wine, too. Similarly, “Just as the Houston Baptists failed to save us sinners from the demon drink, so the greens are failing to save the planet.”

Having come this far in our course of native wisdom, most of us will mostly agree: “we have to rid ourselves of the illusion that we are separate from Gaia in any way.” That last unqualified phrase hangs me up just a bit, I’ll admit.

Does it then follow, though, that whatever remains of the pioneering spirit in our time must necessarily point in just one direction and one course of action (viz., getting out of town)? Or that we need to snuff our campfires? Or that we should give up on goals like “350“?

By the way, 350.org’s founder Bill McKibben says geoengineering is not the solution. It’s “junkie logic.” It refuses to acknowledge that we’ve already transformed our planet in ways we can’t hope to reverse. We’ve turned Earth into Eaarth. [McKibben on Lovelock: “How Close to Catastrophe?”]

Lovelock agrees, of course, doubting our competence “to take on what might become the onerous permanent task of keeping the Earth in homeostasis.” (Ch5) But he goes much further, in suggesting that all attempts to retreat from an imagined tipping point of no return are signs of our pathetic addiction to a way of life we’ve already destroyed.

But “perhaps I am too pessimistic”… perhaps Humanity 2.0 will succeed us, will abandon the worst tendencies of tribalism, and will extend Gaia’s declining years. Perhaps a Great Communicator will transform the post-human mob into an effective, less aggressive global intelligence. Perhaps we’ll live on as the revered “progenitors of a species closer to Gaia.”

But if James Lovelock is right, that won’t be for us to say.

==

P.S. The “critical thinking”/evolution bill now making its way through the Tennessee legislature includes climate change as one of the topics our reps think need “protecting” with targeted legislation. Here’s some of the “debate“… the call to order and prayer begin about five minutes in.

P.P.S. to STUDENTS: We’re not meeting today. On Wednesday we begin (again) Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline. Try to let me know then if you’re planning a final presentation.

lightly, carefully, gracefully

November 29, 2010

But, realistically? Well… maybe.

Bill McKibben says maybe we can make a decent life on our compromised planet if we live a lot more “lightly, carefully, gracefully” than we’ve shown any interest in doing. What seems clear, though plenty of our fellow Americans are in denial about this, is that something’s gottta give. We can’t keep on keeping on, in the profligate and short-visioned way we’ve been living.

We finish Eaarth today in FoL. Next up, a glimpse at Richard Powers’ cautionary tale about the possible future of engineered happiness, in Generosity: An Enhancement.

NOTE TO STUDENTS: No class today. We’ll finish discussing McKibben on Wednesday, and begin Powers. Possibly also a final presentation, from the first volunteer.

The industrial food system that’s too big  to fail is failing. It’s not feeding the rising numbers of hungry people, country and city living  alike are imperiled by global warming, in Michael Pollan‘s words we’re “eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases.” Chalk up half of global warming to present livestock practices and farm subsidies. [Pollan on the politics of food safety…nyt op-ed]

But there’s “unambiguously good news” (finally!) on this score: diversified small-scale agriculture works, and “serious people” have begun to notice. “Monomaniacs” like “Soybean King” Kip Cullers may not be our future, after all. Maybe Bangladesh (!) is, with “a hundred species of fruit and vegetable” in a single acre.

But won’t serious reductions of energy waste in America be extraordinarily painful? No, it’ll be more like “losing weight by cutting your hair.” (That’s not a promising analogy, for me. But I understand what he’s saying.) Turn off the video-game, insulate the water-heater, screw in some better bulbs and the savings will astonish you. That’s before you ever even think about your personal windmill and solar panels, or CSE. (Amory Lovins says we can cut oil use by half and electricity by 3/4.)

Okay, but doesn’t this future look pretty bleak, boring, dull? Even if, like Bill and me, you love Thoreau and the Waltons? McKibben doesn’t deny it. Thank goodness for– SURPRISE!– the Internet.

Yes, thanks to the world wide web you now can engage the world and find real novelty from the comfort and convenience of your very own rural retreat. You can join millions worldwide in Action Days (like 10.10.10) that allow us to believe, for a few hours at least, that the whole world wants the brighter future you dream of. “New ideas blow in, old prejudices blow out.” 350.org, begun just a few years ago by McKibben and six Middlebury students, really has accomplished a great deal of consciousness-raising and solidarity-building in a short time. They couldn’t have done it without the web.

Eaarth represents the deepest of human failures. But we still must live on the world we’ve created— lightly, carefully, gracefully.

Then, and only then, will we know ourselves capable of taking the next bold step out into the final frontier. Eaarth, may we hope, will not be our final resting place.

backing off

November 24, 2010

“Sustainable” is a squishy word, says Bill McKibben. It purveys the lie that we can keep on going as we’re going, indefinitely. We can’t. We have to back off.

Better are words like durable, sturdy, stable, hardy, robust…

NOTE TO STUDENTS: Looks like it’s Bring Younger Daughter to Work Day. She’s out already for Thanksgiving Break and says she’ll accompany me to class today-with an “activity” for you, and maybe cookies too.

4 PM UPDATE: She wants all of you who did not make it to her class today to know: no cookies or cupcakes for you!

Poor Alan Greenspan, the “tiny wizard behind the curtain,” unexpectedly bereft of his eternally-expansionist libertarian “belief system.” It all goes back to thinking nature can play second fiddle to “society,” on McKibben’s reading. Last few decades, we’re just too big for our britches.

We need to get back the spirit of ’76 (or ’75?), before American patriotism was indistinguishable from nationalism and exceptionalism… back when it was all about “the defense of the small against the big.” Before we were Big Gulping, Super-sizing, planet-hogging, growth-gorging, future-robbing Consumers.

(But what about Madison’s “Federalist 10” and the push for strong central government? That was never meant to be permanent, McKibben contends a bit unpersuasively.)

Nobody cares about Mars, that world of wonders? The President does: “we want to leap into the future. We want major breakthroughs, a transformative agenda for NASA.”

Admittedly, three decades of benign neglect of deeper space has taken a toll, on that front. People get excited about big projects when opinion leaders lead effectively. Lately the Pythonesque absurdity of large-scale ambitions has been hard to shake, in the absence of a clear-eyed and articulate visionary to tap our idealism. As Jason reminded us the other day, we need another Sagan.

And we need another wave of reason.

What’s left after you go is
The good you’ve left behind
You have to believe in hope
You have to believe in the future

There are more and more people coming around to the point of view that
A positive future for humanity requires human expansion to space

We’re at a crossroads today
We either muster the courage to go
Or we risk the possibility of stagnation and decay

If the short-term future is going to be shrunken,  a long-term vision will be harder to hold.  But times do change. They’ll change again. Right?

If cheap energy has fueled our  “neighborless lifestyle,” and made us less happy, we’d better hope so. The Farmer’s Diner (“Think Globally–Act Neighborly” sounds like a great role model for these changing times.

Wendell Berry’s “mad farmer,” too.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns…

Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts…

But… no more “key” national projects anymore? So soon on the heels of civil rights, in a time of vanishing civil liberties, in the fresh echo of “Drill, Baby, Drill”? That really seems premature.

And so does despair. “Far more people take care of each other than take advantage of each other.” That’s true enough, isn’t it? Is it an authentic underpinning of hope? Is the future of “community” bright enough?

Could be. You wouldn’t bet, would you, that the next chapter by the author of The Age of Missing Information, on the Internet, will be any brighter? But that’s the thing about the future (and it’s also my favorite word in English, as it was Joaquin Andujar’s): Youneverknow.

We are “the lucky ones.” Happy Thanksgiving! Pay it forward

high tide

November 22, 2010

The sea level of Bill McKibben’s pessimism is well over flood stage, in today’s FoL reading. He promises it will now begin to recede. We’ll see. My question remains: can we get through the current quagmire of lowered expectations without sacrificing the driving dream of better days ahead? Can we go ahead and build that long clock?

NOTE TO STUDENTS: Hope you can all make it today, we’ll finally finish midterm reports & sign up for finals, we’ll catch up on old quizzes, and do course evaluations.

High water is a problem in its own right, as we were reminded in Nashville last May. (Bob Edwards and the Mayor are all over the flood this morning on XM.) It’s also very symbolic of what’s new and different about our warming planet… and Route 125 near his home in Vermont is a concrete illustration. “You can go to YouTube and see a video– the water washing over the road, tearing out pavement, nearly swallowing up a car…”

“Route 125 doesn’t really work anymore. The river it’s running next to is getting wider because we now live on a planet where warmer air holds more water vapor and hence we have bigger storms…” Infrastructure is going to be a big, growing, costly problem.

It should be clear, in light of all we’ve already read, that we’re coming to a fork in the road as to future expectations. Are we on the cusp of a bold adventure full of grand global projects? Mars, say?

Will we take small but decisive steps out into the cosmos, or will we renounce them as unaffordable fantasies?  Will we place our confidence in technology, especially green technology, to save us from generations of profligacy and plunder? Will carbon-sucking nanobots clean up our mess? Are there techie fixes just waiting to be discovered?

Thinking “with special clarity about the future,” Bill McKibben says growth has to stop. Green growth is worth a shot, but the time to really invest in it was three decades ago. We missed that window. Tom Friedman aside, our hot world isn’t as flat as he thinks it is.

Oh, we’ll impress and amuse and distract ourselves with our Volts and Leafs and even some solar panels (on the White House again) and windmills, but they’re not going to “scale” fast enough to turn the tide.

Just ask our friends at Exxon-Mobil for their prognostications and “business sense.” They still seem to be in the driver’s seat, especially now that BP’s taken the fall as Public Enemy #1 in the gulf. There’s lots more “disinformation” where that came from.

We’ve had 10,000 stable years,  but the cost of living on this “Eaarth” is not stabilizing. “The wind blows harder; more rain falls; the sea rises.”

Green trains might be a solution, but it really matters what you haul in them. China doesn’t just ride the rails, though. [“Transportation in China” wiki]

“If you want to keep your Chinese child from having a chest cold that lingers all winter, the easiest thing to do is burn more coal.” We’re in no position to moralize, though. We’re still pretending we can find and burn “clean coal,” too.

Does the Pentagon really anticipate a return to war over resources as the global norm? Well, that’s the business they’re in.

We can all agree with McKibben, can’t we, that “we need to dampen our intuitive sense that the future will resemble the past”?  But does that have to mean a permanent “uphill” slog? Maybe something wonderful is waiting to happen, as Carl Sagan said.

He read the Club of Rome report in 1972, and spent his last healthy years raising awareness of potential environmental crises, “nuclear winter” and so on. But he also kept his gaze on the far horizon.

Buddhist economics” have their charm, and even their consolations. So does “collapse porn,” honestly. But if our best days aren’t just ahead of us, maybe we’re just not looking through a big enough telescope.

==

P.S. Did you see Craig Venter on “60 Minutes” last night? The future of life, he says, depends on our learning to program life’s software. He says we can bio-engineer everything. He and his privately-funded colleagues are working on applications in food, medicine, and a clean fuel that eats CO2. “Playing God?” No, he says, just trying to understand the rules of life.

eaarth

November 17, 2010

Bill McKibben’s latest book welcomes us to a tough new planet, not the sweet floating blue-white marble oasis the Apollo 8 crew gushed about but a real survivor’s nightmare where things may already have moved past the point of no return. He wants us to make a life there.

It may not sound appealing, but living on Eaarth (or Monnde, Tierrre, Errde…) is still better than the alternative.

The End of Nature was a philosophical rumination on what might happen in the future. “Earthrise” was still a relatively recent snapshot of the homeworld, and we still felt incredibly lucky to live there. But we don’t live there anymore.

The future is now, and it’s too late for idle speculation about what might happen. We’ve got to deal with what’s been happening: all of the planet’s large-scale systems, from ice caps and glaciers to oceans and forests and storms and floods et al, are registering an alarming transformation most of us have been content to ignore or even deny.

Yet, we have only fear itself to fear, and fear of engagement. Again, the alternative is unacceptable for our grandchildren… and for us. The ecological life-support systems on which human life depends are beeping ominously. It’s not a question of getting back to zero, for at least a millennium.

Changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level are largely irreversible for more than a thousand years after carbon dioxide emissions are stopped.

A thousand years is a long damn time. But we trained ourselves in FoL to think about long damn times, with The Clock of the Long Now. So, how about it? Can we think beyond the millennium, hunker down to meet the present and foreseeable crises of the next few generations, and still preserve the flicker of a long-ticking dream? Does the future still matter?

Some “spooky calm” earth-firsters think the planet will be just fine even if we do ourselves in, Wall-e style. Nope. We’re doing a good job of “sabotaging its biology, draining its diversity,” and generally making a mockery of the idea of sustainability.

Surviving isn’t flourishing, people and planets aren’t pine beetles. But they’re not really doing just fine, either. It does a species no long-term good to proliferate on a warming planet that can’t sustain the mutuality of its other vital interrelationships.

I don’t believe in Beetles.

“Why the future doesn’t need us”

September 13, 2010

In the Wired essay of this name, a few years old now but still startling to think about, Bill Joy was definitely not happy to contemplate the world without us. [Wiki bio]

His point was that we need to be charting a very different future than the one our present technological trend-lines– particularly in genetics, robotics, and nanotechnology– seem to be converging on. It’s not clear that he was playing Chicken Little in that piece, or that the sky will not soon fall. He was sounding an alarm. Have any of us heard it?

Well, Bill McKibben did. See his Enough: staying human in an engineered age. Like Joy, he too is now intensely preoccupied with green solutions to our woes. [350.org]

Some people call him Chicken Little, too, ever since End of Nature; and he keeps looking more and more like a prophet just barely ahead of his time. Let us hope Bill Joy was just wrong. Better yet, let’s act to make him wrong. That’s what he was really hoping we’d do, after reading Wired.

You could call him a Star Trek geek, too. He still seems to share the same Roddenberry vision of the 24th century he and I and many others were infected with on Thursday nights back in the late ’60s. Good for us, I say. But: where are our jet-packs?! Well, maybe they’ll be along soon enough, if he’s right about carbon nano-tubes and Moore’s Law, along with our replicators and transporters. We’ve already got our phasers and tri-corders. Live long and prosper!

(Wired continues its penchant for lapel-grabbing feature stories. Lately they’ve pronounced the death of the Web. Sounds, like reports of Mr. Twain’s death more than a century ago, a bit exaggerated.  And premature.)

NOTE TO CLASS: in addition to Bill Joy, the syllabus promised some discussion today of transhumanists and gerontologists, including Aubrey de Grey. Stay tuned, we’ll get to all that– and the idea of bio-enhancement– a little later. Meanwhile, take a look for Wednesday at some of the founding documents of the Long Now Foundation from Hillis &  Eno, et al, and then let’s get started with Brand’s Clock of the Long Now.

“Future” begins

August 30, 2010

I have to say it at least once: The future is now.

The “Future of Life” course, that is. It starts today. Trying to get a jump-start, I’ve emailed students (though Beloit says the “1st Yrs,” the Class of 2014– born in 1992!– don’t really do email anymore) and asked them to begin pondering a statement from William James in his Pragmatism, at the end of his third lecture:

The really vital question for us all is, What is this world going to be? What is life eventually to make of itself? The centre of gravity of philosophy must therefore alter its place. The earth of things, long thrown into shadow by the glories of the upper ether, must resume its rights. To shift the emphasis in this way means that philosophic questions will fall to be treated by minds of a less abstractionist type than heretofore, minds more scientific and individualistic in their tone yet not irreligious either. It will be an alteration in ‘the seat of authority’ that reminds one almost of the protestant reformation. And as, to papal minds, protestantism has often seemed a mere mess of anarchy and confusion, such, no doubt, will pragmatism often seem to ultra-rationalist minds in philosophy. It will seem so much sheer trash, philosophically. But life wags on, all the same, and compasses its ends, in protestant countries. I venture to think that philosophic protestantism will compass a not dissimilar prosperity. Gutenberg etext

I’ve asked my still-future students (or the ones who still read email, anyhow): Do you agree with James? Wherein lies the “vitality,” for you? Or is the future a black box any normally-constituted human should expect to have difficulty imagining or caring about? What would it mean, really to care about it? How would, or how does, caring impact your choices and actions?

That’s part of what our course will be about. “Future” and “life” both sprawl in an almost untameable way, of course, so we’ll have plenty of parsing to do as we go along. That means even more basic, orienting questions: Is the future all about me, or about us, at all? Or is it all about successors to whom our relation is murky? Should we consider our main obligation to be to ourselves as individuals, to our (contingent) historical epoch, to our wider communities, our DNA, the species, the planet, the carboniferous form of life, or– as the late Carl Sagan said– to the very cosmos, “ancient and vast” and ongoing, itself?

So many questions. We’ll begin looking for answers with a nod to Dan Dennett, who pointed out that we are the beneficiaries of generations of people who cared about us while knowing they’d never meet us, and with a forward-looking glance backward from 19th century futurist Edward Bellamy (“Looking Backward“). How easy it is to get details wrong, but how exciting to dream of real progress in subduing the inherited scourges– including economic and political as well as biological plagues– of the past.

Then, Sagan’s calendar and the Long Now Foundation’s clock (“now“), edge.org’s “Third Culture” crowd, Jaron Lanier, Bill McKibben, Richard Powers,  maybe E.O. Wilson and Aubrey de Grey too.

So many possibilities, in the great open-ended pluralistic universe. I talked about some of them on the radio back in the Spring, when the future seemed so far off.

But first, it being the first day, we’ll introduce ourselves. I’m tired of being “Dr. Phil,” maybe I’ll pass along Older Daughter’s suggestion that, in this class at least, I become “Phil of the future.”

plugged back in

August 2, 2010

Robert Pyle’s little essay in  Orion magazinea few years old now, still has the power to inspire and infuriate. The author’s brother-in-law challenged his lament for young people who’d rather connect with the Internet than with the Earth itself.

“How do you know,” Leon asked me, “that these kids aren’t just as stimulated, and ultimately fulfilled, as we were by making up our own games outdoors?” I had to admit that he had a point. How indeed could I be sure? But by the third glass of champagne I had an answer—or at least a couple of questions: For one, what happens to a species that loses touch with its habitat? And where will all the conservationists come from when kids no longer have a patch of ground that they can truly call my space?


My original comment on this article, posted Dec.’07:

Bill McKibben was prophetic about this, as about so much else. Our vaunted Information Age really is an “Age of Missing Information.” But rather than pull the plug in a literal way, I’m going to continue tasking myself each day to pull away from the keyboard and the email in responsible moderation. Our evolutionary health depends on our learning to do this.

So: once more into the breach. “Moderation” is not much of a rallying cry, but there it is. It was good to get away, it’s good to be back, and it’ll be healthy to “pull away” again as needed.

Just trying to evolve here a little.


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