DUCK SOUP: From "Gorillas in the Myth: A Duck Soup Reader"

Goldilocks had it all figured out: Not too cold, not too hot -- just right! It works for soup and it works for planets, too. While some might argue that on a different world we would simply be different, the evidence suggests that if the world was only a little less "just right" we wouldn't be here at all. Water is an essential ingredient for life, and the water needs to be liquid to make the sort of primordial soup in which life can get going. If the earth were slightly further from the sun, the soup would be frozen. If the earth were slightly closer it would have boiled dry -- and all the other ingredients would be stuck to the bottom of the pan.As it is, life did emerge and -- during four billion years of tinkering -- it managed to produce our lovely biosphere. Starting with noxious air and a global ocean full of dissolved poisons, living cells have worked to make it just right. Toxins have been locked up through sequestration and sedimentation -- mostly tucked out of harm's way beneath the earth's crust. Meanwhile plants and animals learned to recycle each other's less toxic wastes to the benefit of all.Ain't it sweet?Sadly, this beautiful planet is under siege.Globe-girdling corporations have created a new colonialism. They extract resources without regard for local need or biospheric impact; build and continually relocate production facilities where labor or resources are cheap, and export their wares to high-dollar markets; manipulate demand with dominance of information media; use their economic muscle to command special treatment including tax relief and infrastructure subsidies from local governments; and impoverish the great majority while concentrating money and power in the hands of a few. These corporations are utterly dependent on underpriced petroleum and electric power. And this meta-colonialism is far more powerful than that of an earlier era, because the big players have now escaped the cages of nationalistic homelands and are busy writing our new international-trade laws. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization are the enforcers who whip peasants and bureaucrats into compliance.If wells were bottomless, forests unlimited, oceans unbounded and the biosphere deep and wide enough to absorb unending waste, the greed and rapaciousness of meta-colonialists might be tolerable. Unfortunately there are limits.Our current technological civilization is on a collision course with physical realities which we cannot change. Human numbers will soon top out at 8 to 10 billion; arable acreage is diminishing; food stocks are at a modern historic per-capita low; fisheries are collapsing; many major mineral resources will run out in the next century; forests worldwide are in steep decline; an extinction spasm is wracking the earth's diversity of life forms; and the planet is warming. Most troubling of all, our industrial methods are releasing poisons locked out of the biosphere for millenia, and introducing new ones: we are re-toxifying the soup of life. I don't make this stuff up, and imagining that they are not critical problems will not make them go away.Notwithstanding the looming disaster, though, I remain hopeful. Massive shifts of consciousness can occur: Witness the Soviet collapse, or the Copernican revolution that toppled geocentrism. We can make the leap from a linear, extractive, poisonous society to a circular, regenerative and benign existence. The essays collected in "Gorillas in the Myth" reflect not only my efforts to discard myths which could prove to be life-threatening, but also the joy I find exploring the natural world. There is much worth saving on our miraculous planetary home.New inventions will unquestionably play a huge part in a successful transition to a sustainable culture, but it is the changes that we can adopt today that will buy us time to discover miracle cures. We can pull back from consumerism -- and from producing more consumers. We can divert our dollars toward the most efficient vehicles on the market -- and drive less. We can inhabit smaller homes that are well insulated and ventilated -- and reject the trend toward climate controlled show-homes with automatic everything. We can choose organic food -- and give farmers the incentive they need to shift. We can invest in environmentally sensitive regional companies -- and demand change from others whose stock we own. One decision at a time, we can work together to fashion a culture which might endure.Perhaps more than anything else we need to re-think our mythology and consider different icons for our mental pedestals. We have embraced economic growth as an end in itself, without asking whether that growth can create an enduringly liveable world. In the past century or so we have substituted an imaginary ledger for the natural accounting system which evolved over billions of years. We have cooked the books, to the point that we can no longer differentiate meaningful gain from life destroying deficit -- as when a clear-cut rainforest is tabulated as profit while investment in photovoltaic panels creates a loss.Maybe we need to redefine what winning means if that which we usually label "winning" inherently causes irremediable harm.From "Gorillas in the Myth: A Duck Soup Reader," by Cecil L. Bothwell III, $10, Brave Ulysses Books -- available only from independent book stores beginning March15, 2000. Info at: 828-669-9235 or

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