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CHANGING BEHAVIORS TO NURTURE THE BIOSPHERE IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO John Cairns, Jr. University Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology Emeritus.

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Presentation on theme: "CHANGING BEHAVIORS TO NURTURE THE BIOSPHERE IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO John Cairns, Jr. University Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology Emeritus."— Presentation transcript:

1 CHANGING BEHAVIORS TO NURTURE THE BIOSPHERE IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO John Cairns, Jr. University Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology Emeritus Department of Biological Sciences Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg, Virginia 24061, U.S.A. February 2011

2 SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI STATED: “I WISH TO COMPOSE A NEW ‘PRAISES OF THE LORD’ FOR HIS CREATURES,... THESE CREATURES MINISTER TO OUR NEEDS EVERY DAY. WITHOUT THEM WE COULD NOT LIVE.... THE HUMAN RACE GREATLY OFFENDS THE CREATOR [SINCE] EVERY DAY WE FAIL TO APPRECIATE SO GREAT A BLESSING BY NOT PRAISING AS WE SHOULD THE CREATOR AND DISPENSER OF ALL THESE GIFTS.” 1 * *I am indebted to Karen Cairns for calling this quote to my attention.

3 SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI STARTED LIFE AS THE SON OF A WEALTHY MAN, BUT LED A SIMPLE LIFE AFTER HE HAD A VISION TO PROTECT AND ENJOY NATURE AS BOTH THE STEWARD OF GOD’S CREATION AND AS A CREATURE HIMSELF. Saint Francis obviously did not view other life forms as commodities or resources but as fellow species having inherent worth well beyond their economic value, if any. The present economic culture views everything in terms of its economic value. As a consequence, the present Biosphere is not viewed as the planet’s life support system but rather as a miscellaneous collection of species, most of which have little or no commercial value. The idea that protecting the environment (i.e., the Biosphere) is not acceptable if it might hurt the economy is immoral.

4 ARGUABLY, HUMANKIND’S WORST SIN IS BIOTIC IMPOVERISHMENT.  “The enemy [of the biota] is chronic disturbance, cumulative and irreversible, that moves the world systematically down the curve of biotic impoverishment, place by place, until the effects fuse and end this phase in the evolution of the biosphere.” 2  Humankind is creating, by continuing business as usual, an alien planet that may no longer be suitable for Homo sapiens.  In Saint Francis’ era, focusing on species and respecting and nurturing them was expected. Science now knows that biotic communities are also a product of evolution and must be nurtured if they are to persist.  Reverence for life should be extended to include living systems.

5 HUMANKIND HAS DIFFICULTY FEELING EMPATHY OR COMPASSION FOR A SYSTEM, ESPECIALLY FOR A SYSTEM DISTANT IN SPACE OR TIME.  However, if one lives in an ecosystem and observes it keenly for an extended period of time, as Henry David Thoreau did at Walden Pond, the sensitivity for it and other such systems can even be communicated to a vast number of people.  Thoreau stated: “... for a man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.” 3

6 HOW CAN PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN CITIES OR HIGHLY URBANIZED AREAS DEVELOP BIOPHILIA (AN INSTINCTIVE BOND BETWEEN HUMAN BEINGS AND OTHER LIVING SYSTEMS)? 4  City dwellers and suburban residents need the opportunity for more time in natural systems.  If possible, people could ensure that their houses have access to natural or semi- natural systems. If not, they could spend time at natural preserves, vacation in natural areas where they encounter few people, and hike natural trails.

7 “NATURE IS A SYSTEM OF INTERACTING PARTS. IT IS DYNAMIC; IT IS STOCHASTIC; IT IS NON-LINEAR. WHEN WILL HUMANS LEARN THESE FACTS?” 5 Not understanding nature (i.e., the universal laws of physics, chemistry, and biology) can be costly, even fatal, which humankind is slowly learning. The solution is simple  stop damaging the biospheric life support system or suffer. If the present Biosphere is forced into one or more tipping points, the human economy will lose the renewable resources that it needs to function  what then?

8 “MY FATHER RODE A CAMEL, I DRIVE A MERCEDES, MY SON DRIVES A LAND ROVER, HIS SON WILL DRIVE A LAND ROVER, BUT HIS SON WILL RIDE A CAMEL.” 6  The cornucopian era facilitated by cheap, readily available petroleum is over. The oil remaining is hard to retrieve and, therefore, expensive.  Food riots confirm that approximately half the human population is already living a marginal existence. Only a few percent of the nearly 7 billion are free of hardship.  Food riots will probably spread as food prices increase and agricultural productivity decreases.  This resource crisis could easily degenerate into anarchy, which will disrupt the global economy.

9 HUMANKIND IS NOT NURTURING THE BIOSPHERE. IT AND RENEWABALE RESOURCES, INCLUDING AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTIVITY, ARE DECLINING WHILE THE HUMAN POPULATION CONTINUES TO GROW EXPONENTIALLY.  How should both individual and national behavior change to meet these crises?  “Riots over rising food prices and chronic unemployment spiraled out from Algeria’s capital... with youths torching government buildings and shouting ‘Bring us sugar!’” 7  “Of all the epic structures the human race has devised, none if more staggering or imposing than the Gap Between Rich and Poor...” 8 The enormous gap between the very poor and the ultra-rich has created riots where people are starving and unemployed.  Addressing these problems cannot be postponed until 2050 or even 2025.

10 IF HUMANKIND DOES NOT SLOW THE RATE OF BIOSPHERIC CHANGE, SOCIAL UNREST, THEN RIOTING, AND FINALLY ANARCHY WILL RESULT.  Climate change is already having adverse effects upon agricultural productivity, and unemployment and rapidly rising food prices have caused concern about agroterrorism.  Disgruntled people might strike all sorts of targets  power lines, bridges, airports, factories, and so on. Large numbers of people would be needed to guard them all effectively.  Solving these crises will require much wisdom and less ideology.

11 SAINT FRANCIS COULD HAVE LED A WEALTHY LIFE, BUT HE CHOSE TO LIVE A SIMPLE ONE.  Economic growth/consumerism has damaged the Biosphere and increased the gap between the wealthy and the poor.  Billions are starving or malnourished, lack adequate medical care, housing, education, potable water, and hopes for their future.  Substantive changes in human behavior could reduce the risks of global crises.  Humankind must redirect behavior to achieve sustainable use of the planet.  What is human society waiting for?

12 Acknowledgments. I am indebted to Darla Donald for transcribing the handwritten draft and for editorial assistance in preparation of the Power Point presentation. References 1 Murray, W A Mended and Broken Heart: The Life and Love of Francis of Assisi. Basic Books, New York, p Woodwell, G The biodiversity blunder. BioScience 60(11): Thoreau, H. D Walden. Ticknor and Fields, Boston, MA. 4 Wilson, E. O Biophilia. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. 5 Disney, R Personal communication. 29Jan. 6 Attributed to Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Emir of Dubai. 7 Durden, T Food riots commence as the Fed’s loose money policy leads to first violence of ZeroHedge 6Jan commence-feds-loose-money-policy-leads-first-violence News Gap between rich and poor named 8 th wonder of the world. The Onion 24Jan 8th-wonder-of-the,18914/.


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