A Brave New World Of Environmental Collapse

by Jerry Brown


"Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course." That was the apocalyptic warning uttered in 1992 by some 1700 scientists from 69 countries, including 99 of the 196 living Nobel laureates. Tragically, no one with any power is listening. In the ensuing four years, corporate managers and political officials have only accelerated their "massive tampering with the world's interdependent web of life."

If you limited yourself to closely following the recent presidential campaign, you would be unaware that a group of the world's leading scientists has stated: "A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated." Apparently, what scares the hell out of many scientists barely registers in Washington. The fetuses are under control, God is in his heaven and the minimum wage will be 90 cents higher by the end of 1997.

In California, however, the spirit of environmental activism lives and is bursting with creative resistance. At stake is the Headwaters Forest with its six ancient groves of redwoods, isolated remnants of the massive forest that once stretched from Oregon to the coast of Central California. Many of the trees predate capitalism and some were growing when Jesus Christ walked the shores of Galilee.

One Sunday in September over 1000 people peacefully defied a police line and were arrested for trespassing on the "private property" of Pacific Lumber Company. This is the subsidiary of Texas money man Charles Hurwitz's Maxxam Corp., the ostensible owner of the majestic trees. At a moment when politics exhausts itself in jaded cynicism and the Dow Jones soars out of sight, Bonnie Raitt, Jello Biafra, members of the Sierra Club and Earth First! and thousands of ordinary citizens engaged in civil disobedience to demand total protection of an irreplaceable natural treasure.

God's creation or the market's "underperforming asset?" Left standing, a redwood grove is a miracle of beauty and home to an incredible variety of beings; laid low by chain saws and the commodified minds of our time, it is transformed into tangible returns on investment--the economy, stupid!

Here is the great contest that both Dole and Clinton missed during their tedious campaigning. Two views are vying for the allegiance of humankind and they should have been widely discussed. One is status quo--more industrialized growth, leading to a computerized world of 12 billion people surviving as a global ant heap. The other is a transformed civilization based on wisdom, restraint and caring.

This is a time for prophets, for vision. Otherwise, the people perish. Crime bills, anti-terrorist controls and budget-balancing gestures grab the headlines. Yet, as 99 Nobel laureates proclaimed in their 1992 Warning to Humanity, the real dangers are insufficient food, deforestation, species loss and climate change which could trigger "unpredictable collapses of critical biological systems whose interactions and dynamics we only imperfectly understand."

This is heavy stuff. It is so heavy that the conventional leaders would rather comfort us with deceptive cliches. When I was governor of California, the president of the leading Electric Utility company told me--after a fundraising dinner and drinks-that he hoped his company's nuclear poweer plant wouldn't go critical on his watch. He laughed and I shivered. And that is the way they talk...among the insiders.

In the face of our so called leaders' profound irresponsibility and cavalier denial of looming disaster, reflect for a moment on the popularity of Disney's gigantic amusement center in Florida. With more hotel rooms than either Los Angeles or New York, Disney has hit the tourist jackpot as the most visited vacation spot in the world. Could this be the ersatz answer to the awesome challenge of the age? Create a perfect, corporate reality that provides crime free, clean fun. Like the triumph of McDonaldization, Disneyfication of existence promises certainty, predictability and wonderfully sanitary conditions. Few will worry about soil loss or global warming or an overcrowded world haunted by hungary people if they are infantilized and soothed.

The world's scientists are blowing the whistle on a whole way of modern life. They are questioning overconsumption and straightline optimism based on auto travel, 24 hour advertising and endless increases in people and industrial production. They are telling us to change. How?

Yes, this is a tall order. But let's be honest. Unless the meretricious leadership of the modern world is made to come to its senses, we are doomed. Perhaps our descendants will physically survive with 12 or 14 billion mouths but their world will not be a place any of us would ever desire. There will be no liberty, period. The regimentations of Hitler, Stalin and Mao will stand as only crude approximations of the rationalized, new world order of total domination. Man will at last have reinvented himself--and what a horror.


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