CHEAP OIL: GOOD NEWS, OR BAD?

By Paul M. Lewis

Anyone who drives a gas-guzzling car these days is probably happier than they were just a few short months ago. In that space of time, the price of oil has dropped 29%. Brent crude, which serves as the global benchmark for oil, was at $82 a barrel as of mid October, the lowest in four years. This compares to almost $116 per barrel back in June. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average the cost of a gallon of gasoline has also gone down from an average of $3.51 to $3.39 in 2013 and 2014 respectively, and will undoubtedly slip below the three dollar mark next year, to an average of $2.94 per gallon. In some places, it already has.

The question is: who is this good and bad news for? Consumers are among the most obvious winners. Who doesn’t rejoice when it takes twenty to thirty dollars less to fill up your tank? With the possible exception of the wealthiest one percent, most of us count our dollars, and when we don’t have to spend as much to get to work, or to run errands, or to take the kids to soccer practice, then there’s that much more for other everyday needs. The same can be said, by the way, for the cost of heating oil, which has also decreased by almost the same trajectory. Especially for those living in colder climes, this all amounts to substantial savings, and there are a lot of people who are breathing a sigh of relief as a result.

Manufacturers, too, are happy about the current state of affairs. One way or another, it takes energy to produce anything, and although the cost of electricity has not been substantially affected by the volatility in oil prices, other costs certainly have, particularly that of shipping. Airlines are also dancing the cheap-oil jig since, after salaries, jet fuel amounts to their biggest outlay of capital. Maybe this will also result in the cancellation of some of those annoying “energy surcharges” airlines have for some time now been adding on to the cost of tickets; yet another bonus for consumers, and ultimately for businesses that have to send people around the country, or the world, to conduct affairs.

Surprisingly, yet another winner is the stock market, at least for those stocks that do not include oil. As referenced above, manufacturers and airlines, and even healthcare providers, all benefit from lower energy costs. Consequently, the overall value of these companies and corporations has concomitantly risen, and their stocks along with them. People’s investments are, therefore, worth more, and those retirees who live off their savings may be starting to feel less of a belt-tightening.

Even environmentalists may have some reason to rejoice, although not too much. Projects such as the XL pipeline are no longer looking as fiscally advantageous as they once did. If OPEC is selling its product that much cheaper these days, there is no longer such a compelling need – nor is there economic justification – for companies to spend what it takes to extract oil from the tar sands of Alberta and ship it a couple of thousand miles across the United States for processing

This all brings us to the basic reason why there is currently an oil glut, driving down the cost of the product. What happened is that OPEC, at the insistence of 800 pound gorilla Saudi Arabia, decided to keep on pumping lots of oil, almost literally, you might say, flooding the market. The obvious result is that this drives the cost per gallon down, which at first may appear counterintuitive as to how companies normally ought to work. However, it soon becomes clear that OPEC (aka Saudi Arabia) has decided to endure short-term pain for the explicit purpose of long-term gain. Lower energy prices, as noted above, make it far less profitable for newer technologies, such as extracting oil from tar sands, to compete in the open market. The hope is to drive these new sources of oil out of business, so as then to eventually raise prices again, once these companies are no longer viable competitors. After all, this is how capitalism works: do whatever you can to undercut your competitors and then, once they are no longer able to compete, raise your own prices. It all makes good economic sense.

But new energy companies, and in the short-term OPEC members, will not be the only losers in this global energy game of chicken. There are others as well. Governments of all sizes and political persuasions will suffer. Canada, for one, will lose a great deal of money. It’s been estimated that the province of Alberta alone will miss out on as much as 1.2 billion dollars annually because of the price of cheap oil. And that’s only if the price drops below $80 a barrel next year. What will happen if, as many analysts predict, it drops to as low as $65 a barrel? Saskatchewan currently has a budget based on projected revenue coming in with oil set at $100 a barrel. Other Canadian provinces will suffer, as well. And what of poor Vladimir Putin? The ruble has already lost some 40% of its value, and not just because of U.S. and EU sanctions. The plunging cost of oil has contributed majorly to this drop. Everyone knows that much of Putin’s popularity has been based on the fact that the Russian economy has been awash in oil money for years now. What will happen to pension payments, education, food subsidies, infrastructure, even the servicing of debt, to say nothing of the wrath of the oligarchs who have helped prop up his repressive and oppressive government, when people begin to really feel the pinch? Some economists predict deep recession for the Russian economy in 2015. Mexico, too, has reason to be concerned, to say nothing of countries like Nigeria and Venezuela.

But what of yet longer term losers? And by that, I mean all of us. It’s clear that one of the reasons why companies have been interested in investing in clean energy alternatives these past few years is because of the rising cost of oil. If the price of that commodity is now falling, what impetus do companies have to make such an investment? Companies are not philanthropic institutions. They exist for one purpose, and for one purpose only: to make money for themselves and their investors. If they aren’t making money doing a particular thing, they’d better stop doing it, or else they will fail. In addition, cheap oil spurs developing countries to invest in exactly the same kinds of dirty energy policies that richer countries have for years been engaging in.

The result is that all of us risk being washed away in that flood of oil. There are no easy answers. The way the system is set up, if the enormous wealth tied up in energy companies were magically to drop to zero tomorrow, the world would surely be plunged into a recession that would make the last one look like a Sunday afternoon picnic in the park. But if we don’t do something to lessen the impact of our dependence on Big Oil, we will continue down the same road we have long been traveling, to perhaps an even more catastrophic end.

Winners and losers there always will be, no matter what the game. That seems to be how humans are made. But is there a way for us to mitigate the losses, and maximize the gains, not for the few, but for everyone? The immediate issue of the glut of oil in the market is, of course, merely temporary, and a human created one at that. The bigger question by far is this: just how long will the planet be able to sustain the economic growth model of world development? There’s an answer that no one seems to be able to predict this, and one that ought to concern everybody who cares about the world we are living in, or the kind we are leaving for our children.

WRITING “AFTER THE DEVASTATION”

By Paul M. Lewis

It has been some time since I have written on this blog, and to those who read it on anything like a regular basis, I offer my apologies. What has been keeping me otherwise occupied is working on a novel that I originally wrote several years ago

The history of writing the novel goes something like this. Just before I retired at the end of the year 2006, I had a strikingly vivid dream. It was so powerful, and imposed itself so on me, that it woke me from sleep at 3 o’clock in the morning. I sat up and thought about it, but not wanting to awaken my partner, I went into another room and wrote it down. Basically, the dream gave me the broad outline of the book that I came to write. There are three parts to it, and each part was vividly laid out for me. This is what came directly from my subconscious mind. The characters described come, I suppose, from a combination of my conscious mind and the parts of my subconscious that leak out in ways that are both known and unknown to me. The “I” that speaks its name, that is, this amalgam of the aware and the unaware, the mindful and the slumberous, the cognizant and the incognizant that I normally think of and refer to as “me” is responsible for the detail of the story.

But the question that may legitimately pose itself is this: if I wrote the novel several years ago, why am I only now publishing it? That requires some small bit of explanation. The original writing of it took eighteen months. I wrote every day, and was utterly engrossed in it. The story followed the main outline of the original dream, but I had to create individuals to populate this superstructure, as well as plot, and of course conflict. The conflict was both easy and difficult for me. On the one hand, I have always been hyper-aware of conflict, both in my immediate surroundings and in the wider world. There is never, it seems, surcease of conflict. On the other hand, I have also never liked conflict, and my natural tendency is to shy away from it. Yet, you cannot write a novel without embedding discord, dissension and strife of various kinds within it. So, there is that aplenty in the novel. As an aside, all this reminds me of a story I once read about the great Bengali writer and Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. He was spinning a story for his granddaughter, who loved to listen to the various tales he would create just for her. But in this one instance, his story was going on and on, and he was elderly and getting tired. So he began bringing it to an end. However, the granddaughter had other ideas, and each time he would make a move toward an ending, she would say to her grandfather that this or that then happened to the heroine, and so it couldn’t be the end yet. As Tagore later noted, there is no ending a story until the conflict is resolved. Or, I suppose, another way of thinking of it is, the story goes on and on, and it never fully ends. Whatever end we come up with is always a temporary one.

Once the novel was finished, with lots of help from friends, I attempted to find an agent and get it published. However, as an unknown author with an untested novel, no one was willing to take me on. I cannot say that I blame them. The publishing world has changed drastically in the last several years, and continues to change. As a result, I put the novel away for the next few years. It literally sat in a drawer, or in a file on the computer (some of both, actually), until just recently. What happened then was that I was about to turn 70 years old. As that birthday approached, I said to myself that if I am ever going to publish this, to give it a chance to be seen by a wider world than my own eyes, or only by my partner and a few willing friends, I had no choice but to self-publish. And this has been what I have been in the process of doing

Fortuitously, all of this coincided with my partner’s retirement from work. As such, I coopted him (he was more than willing) to make use of his excellent editorial services. We both read through the novel three or four times, depending on how you count, and in the process he made many extremely useful suggestions. I will not say that I took every one, but I did incorporate many of them. And I think, or at least it is my hope, that the novel is the better as a result.

So, I have now submitted the work to the publisher (Lulu.com), and they have just begun to work their own magic. I want to add here too that my old friend and blog-partner, Kevin, who is one of the finest artists I know, was kind enough to agree to create cover art for the novel. I cannot yet say exactly when the novel will be ready, but I am hopeful that sometime in the next couple of months, six at the outside, it will be available.

The novel itself is called After the Devastation, and a brief description of it goes something like this: The year is 2024, and the world is teetering on the brink of global environmental disaster and nuclear war. Nora tells her husband, Aden, she’s leaving to report on a crucial meeting at the new Chicago headquarters of the UN. With the world about to fall apart, this is the last thing he wants to hear. A professor and environmental specialist, Aden understands all too well the risks and dangers involved. But the worst does happen, and the two become lost to each other. In the ensuing years, they lead lives apart in isolated communities without modern technology or the conveniences once taken for granted. Separated and still longing for each other, they both rise to positions of power and leadership in fragments of civilization torn by their own brand of conflict based on religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation and race. They meet traditionalists, doctrinal zealots, outrageous individualists, as well as shamans and those wise in the ways of the world. In the process, each discovers their own intuitive awakening and comes to know and rely on their personal spirit guides. It is a story of political intrigue and magical mysticism, as well as a tale of post-apocalyptic crisis and uncertain future for humanity, riven by its ever-present flaws, but bolstered by its greatest attributes. It poses the questions we ultimately all need to ask ourselves: can we learn from our past mistakes, and are we capable of building a new and better world, even after the devastation?

I have learned a great deal throughout this entire process, and again am enormously grateful for all of the help I have gotten along the way. I can only hope that the novel will live up to my own expectations, as a work that dramatizes and gives life to the enormous environmental issues of our day, to say nothing of the ageless human questions that challenge us all, and that it may serve to remind everyone who reads it of one essential truth – that the earth is not some senseless, inert thing, but has its own kind of consciousness, one that is both other, and greater than, our own.

In Defense of Barbra Streisand, Michael Urie, and “Buyer & Cellar,” a One-Man Play by Jonathan Tolins

Dear Paul,
 
I have read your July 31, 2014 blog post, “In the Cellar,” which appears immediately below this rebuttal. Your review of Jonathan Tolins’ one-man play “Buyer & Cellar” is extremely well-written, erudite, funny in a self-deprecating way, utterly engaging and insightful, and I completely disagree with your premise and conclusions. I concur with your partner who liked the play, even though I have not seen it and have, therefore, no right to comment whatsoever. I hasten to add that just because I agree with him does NOT mean that HE will agree with ME after reading my reasons for liking the play without even having seen it. Here’s why I think I would have liked the play had I seen it:
 
“Camp” is almost exclusively a queer genre of humor: Oh, there is ironic and tongue-in-cheek humor in the straight world, as well as humor that lampoons cultural icons and sacred cows and cherished mores, but nobody does it like we gay boys, with such style in a single limp wrist, sibilant “s” or swished step, but with an evil twinkle in the eye. And yet it is done with equal measures of affection and condemnation, especially when the camp humor is directed at a beloved diva like Barbra Streisand. To my way of thinking, camp humor is a healthy way to bridge the gap between our incontrovertible status as “outsiders” in society, and our undeniable desire to somehow be part of it. Mock worship of celebrities and the very culture that excludes us in so many ways, is one method of forging our own kind of integration.

Barbra Streisand, from a mid-sixties photo shoot for the cover of Cosmopolitan Magazine

Barbra Streisand, from a mid-sixties photo shoot for the cover of Cosmopolitan Magazine

 
As it happens, the very day you guys were seeing “Buyer and Cellar,” starring Michael Urie (of “Ugly Betty” fame,) Robert and I were watching an extended version of the “Inside the Actor’s Studio” rare interview of Barbra Streisand by James Lipton. You see, we are among those gay longtime Barbra worshippers who adore her voice, her enormous creative talent as an actress and director, and her larger-than-life persona. We eat it up. Like so many gay fellows, we don’t just love her, we probably want to BE her, as some of us have tried to do. I disagree that it is because we all feel dreadfully insufficient internally, (although many of us certainly ARE…) but because we see icons like Streisand as accessible portals into the larger world — openings that we recognize, understand, and know how to navigate.
 
At the end of the interview on “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” as always the microphone was turned over to the guest so that she could interact directly with the students. One graduate student, a playwright, said to Ms. Streisand something like, “I have adored you all my life and your work inspires my own creative efforts. I am a gay man. I know other gay men who feel as I do. Why do you think so many gay men are inspired by you?” Barbra paused to think and replied, “It’s because I am so different from the rest of the world, and yet I made it. I am successful.” She came up completely outside the system and thumbed her nose at it even as she tried to get in. She has always been very controversial and despised by many, and yet she is enormously successful. Why wouldn’t every creative gay man identify with her?
 
Human beings seek gods, kings, and queens: We hold within our DNA I suspect, archetypes of the great, powerful, benevolent, true, honest, just leaders, kings, queens and gods that we know we will one day become in some future incarnation. Until we achieve that lofty level of self-realization and, yes, internal sufficiency, we seek role models who can show us the way. But I don’t think this mentor/follower process is so much about insufficiency — that “looming lacuna” of which you write — as it is simply the way all sentient beings learn anything.

Part of that learning process involves following false prophets, silly celebrities, corrupt kings, and visionless leaders, and learning to discriminate between a real god and a false god. Once we get that right we are ready to become gods. Until then, we need graven images and icons and manifestations of divinity in form to worship.

We can be quite sure that Streisand is a flawed mirror of The Divine Mother. But she IS a mirror, nevertheless, just as all of us are. She is particularly good at demonstrating creativity, courage in the face of fire, commitment and perseverance, and most uniquely, Sundara (Glorious Beauty) formed with very imperfect initial material — a strange face, dough-like body, and nasal voice. Yet she achieves it!

2011 MusiCares Person of the Year Tribute to Barbra Streisand

2011 MusiCares Person of the Year Tribute to Barbra Streisand

 
Role playing as satire: This seems to be the methodology of “Buyer & Cellar” as you describe the play. The very premise that Streisand has constructed a fake shopping mall under her barn is the best example. What a great way to make a satirical statement about our cultural addiction to shopping (an activity that I personally abhor.) And it would seem that the actor does nothing but play various roles in a way that makes a satirical statement about the stereotypes portrayed. I haven’t seen the play, but I’ll almost guarantee that Barbra Streisand herself is reduced to a cliché stereotype of her superstar persona — a construct that may have very little to do with who she really is. And, as you describe the persona of Barry the boyfriend, his character sounds like a stereotype of the effeminate gay man — a type for which I have always felt great affection. The structure of the play sounds to me like a very ingenious way to weave a complex fabric of commentary about the obsessions, likes, dislikes, and bizarre behaviors of most of the members of our particular culture, employing the warp and woof of stereotypical characters revealed in a camp, satirical comedy.

A recent portrait of Barbra Streisand for "Ted Talks"

A recent portrait of Barbra Streisand for “Ted Talks”

“Cutism” as a legitimate artistic genre: As an artist myself, currently delving deeply into what I call “Cutism” as a legitimate aesthetic genre, I am now seeing examples of it all around me, and coming to realize that many artists have been working for years in this “style” with tongue firmly planted in cheek, and without sacrificing any aesthetic rigor or excellence, by the way. It could be argued that the complete oeuvres of Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Wes Anderson, and Steve Martin (to mention just a few artists) are deliberately saccharine, satirical “Cutist” outpourings.

We recently watched the decidedly “Cutist” movie, “Evan Almighty,” — a powerful environmental statement about the coming apocalypse due to climate change and abuse of the planet, hidden within a high-budget commercial comedy. “Evan Almighty” is loosely based on the Biblical story of Noah. Steve Carell plays Evan, the new Noah, and Morgan Freeman plays God, responding to politician Evan’s prayer asking for help in changing the world. I had seen it before and thought it was cute and fun, but this time, especially after we watched the “bonus features” in which the director made no bones about his intentions, it seemed really profound to me. Some of us artists have decided to try to find ways to make these difficult or unpalatable statements more accessible to the masses. If we have to adopt cloyingly cute forms to accomplish that end, then so be it.
 
Well… There you have it. I’ve said my piece, and I fear it may be longer than your original post! So sorry, but your very well-written review of a play that I have not even seen, propelled me right onto my soap box. I’ll get down now and shut up. But I sure do wish that Robert and I could have joined you guys on the opposite coast at the Mark Taper Forum and then discussed the play over margaritas and Mexican dinner afterward. In lieu of that pleasure, thank you so much for your very stimulating review and this fun discussion.
 
Love, – Kevin

SANTO TORIBIO, YANOMAMI SHAMANS, AND THE IMMINENCE OF TRANSCENDENCE

By Paul

The Los Angeles Times Sunday edition, July 13, 2014, carried a front page article about the “visit” to Southern California of the holy statue of Santo Toribio Romo Gonzalez from Mexico. Santo Toribio was a Catholic priest who was killed, martyred as it is said, during the so-called Cristero War in Mexico. The usual dates given for this conflict are 1926-1929, but some fighting and killing continued on during the 1930’s, and even into the early 1940’s, a time of land redistribution, anti-clericalism, and civil disturbance, pitching an educated, socialist, governmental elite against an uneducated, but devoutly religious peasantry. Toribio Romo was shot in 1928 by federal soldiers because he continued to conduct Catholic religious ceremonials, which were at the time against the law. He was canonized in the year 2000 by Pope John Paul II.

Curiously, although Santo Toribio had nothing to do with immigration northward during his lifetime, in recent times he has been venerated and celebrated by Mexicans and other Latin Americans, desperate to make the border crossing into the United States. He is even said to have appeared numerous times to some who are attempting to make the perilous and uncertain journey across the border, dressed in the same cowboy hat and boots worn by many of the migrants. The four-foot tall statue of the saint displays in a glass case in the center of the chest a part of Santo Toribio’s ankle bone, and thousands have lined up to reverently touch the glass casement, in hopes of securing special favors from the saint, either for themselves, or for loved ones contemplating making the dangerous crossing.

Modern people, even many Catholics, dismiss such acts of devotion as nothing less than the superstition of the uneducated. How can the ankle bone of a priest, who died over 85 years ago, be of any use to living, breathing human beings, facing extreme hardship and challenge? Better to rely on your own wits and resources, and to spend your money getting practical legal help, rather than chipping in, as many Southern California Latinos have done, to buy a first-class seat on an airplane from Mexico for a wooden statue and its keeper. What contemporary person can argue with this kind of reasoning? How can help of any kind, spiritual or temporal, be somehow transmitted to and bestowed on people by a dried piece of bone, no matter how holy the body of the saint it was taken from?

But here’s another question that can be asked: is it possible that the world is more mysterious than even modern, educated people can ever fully understand, using only the evidence of our senses and of the logical mind? Another way to phrase it might be: does Spirit exist, and if so, does it infuse, permeate, and manifest itself in physical form?

These are questions that have been repeatedly asked over the ages and answered in different ways by various cultures. Here is another example of how people understand and explain the manifestation of Spirit in nature, what I call the “imminence of transcendence.” The Yanomami are a loose cultural and linguistic configuration of indigenous peoples who inhabit the remote rainforests of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela. There has been a great deal of destruction over the years, not only of the Yanomami culture by Christian missionaries, but later on of the rainforest itself, once gold was discovered in the region. Many Indians of the Americas have known for centuries that both religion and gold make Western peoples crazy. They will do anything for gold, including bribing, threatening, stealing, despoiling the natural environment, and even killing those who stand in their way. The Yanomami have, in fact, experienced all of these tactics, and more. Yet, large segments of their culture and of the rainforest (the two are intimately intertwined) still remain intact, in part through the assistance of some not-so-crazed Westerners (Brazilians and others), who have become their allies. But what has helped most of all is the knowledge and the “dreaming” of Yanomami shamans.

As is true with many other indigenous peoples, the Yanomami believe that the forest is alive. And not just the forest as a kind of abstraction, as Westerners might think, but each segment thereof, including every rock, tree, stream, and river. Overseeing all of these are a spirit-people called the “xapiri” (pronounced “sha-PEE-ree”).   Yanomami shamans go through a long and arduous apprenticeship. Partly using this tradition and training, and partly through the aid of powerful hallucinatory drugs, they contact these “xapiri, who appear in the form of tiny humanoids wearing very bright, feather-covered garments. And not only do shamans contact these spirits, they become them. It is in this spirit-form that shamans then defend and protect the forest from evil, both foreign and indigenous.

Here we see another level of belief in a spirit world. Not only do devotees of a religion get to touch the glass that covers the bone of a man believed to have attained spiritual knowledge and, in so doing, contact and attain some of his power, but through the process of chanting, and “dreaming,” and of entering into an altered state of mind, they become the very spirits they see and interact with.

The Yanomami, in fact, have a ready explanation as to why many Westerners are so crazed, so cruelly acquisitive, avaricious, and destructive. White people, according to Yanomami myth, are the offspring of Yoasi, the evil brother of Omama, their Creator God. It is believed that Yoasi gave birth to white people, who come from “the back of the sky,” and who are associated with the evil spirits of the forest. According to the myth, if not controlled, these evil spirits will bring about the end of the world through the “falling sky.” By this, the Yanomami mean the toxic invasion of the deadly smoke of metal and fuels. As Davi Kopenawa, a Yanomami shaman who has co-authored a book entitled “Falling Sky,” says: “When they think their land is getting spoiled, the White people speak of ‘pollution.’ In our language, when sickness spreads relentlessly through the forest we say that ‘xawara’ (epidemic fumes) have seized it and it becomes ghost.”

What do Santo Toribio and Yanomami shamans have in common? Some might say only the ignorance of the uneducated, and an attempt to achieve some level of control on the part of those who otherwise feel disenfranchised and powerless. And there may be some truth in this. However, others may also point to a less logical, more innate, unconscious, chthonic, or even deeply spiritual way of seeing and understanding a world that even modern science does not claim to fully understand.

What I mean by the phrase “imminence of transcendence” is the inherent, essential, deep-born, fundamentally ingrained presence of the Great Mystery of the Universe intertwined with and imbedded in nature. Can it equally be felt in the ankle bone of a saint, or in the tree that grows in your backyard, in the great forests that still, here and there, cover parts of the earth, or in the vast oceans that struggle today with the poisons humans have dumped into them? I will leave that for you to decide for yourself.

In the end, whether we think of all this as some kind of manifested spiritual essence, or merely the ordinary, everyday ebullient effervescence of nature itself, it is our job as human beings to respect the planet. Otherwise, it may not be too far fetched a myth to think that the sky will, in a sense, someday come falling down upon our heads, and that we and our children will no longer be able to breath the very air that surrounds us. Who knows? Maybe with the help of Santo Toribio and the Yanomami shamans, and a bit of our own native wisdom, we, too, may someday learn our lessons and mend our ways. There is, at least, always that hope.

HOW MANY IS TOO MANY, OR HOW OLD WILL YOU BE IN 36 YEARS?

By Paul

Climate change is in the news once again. And well it should be. The Huffington Post has reported that May, 2014 was the hottest May in recorded history, almost a degree and a half warmer than any previous reading for that month.

The good news, and there is a little, is that the Obama Administration has begun to take action. The President himself gave a speech over a year ago in which he laid out his own action plan. This was in part because efforts to get Congress to move in any positive way to make changes that would benefit the earth have come to naught. Many members of Congress, Republicans chief among them, deny either that the globe is warming at all, or that, if it is, the reasons for its warming have anything to do with human activity. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), for example, is on record as saying that “man-made global warming is a hoax.” Broun is also the same individual who said: ‘All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.” And Rep. Broun, it should be noted, currently serves on the House Science Committee!

Small wonder, then, that the Administration has taken matters into its own hands in making attempts to mitigate climate change. Just this week, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and others from the White House are meeting with Tom Steyer and Hank Paulson, co-authors of a new report entitled “Risky Business,” which addresses the economic costs of climate change. Steyer is a billionaire activist and Paulson was Secretary of the Treasury under Pres. George W. Bush. Steyer has also pledged to spend 100 million dollars of his own money supporting politicians who take on issues related to the warming of the globe through his political action group NextGen Climate Action. Additionally, Secretary Lew, along with Atmospheric Administration head Kathryn Sullivan and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate are holding talks with insurance company representatives regarding the anticipated impact and cost of atmospheric warming. The Environmental Protection Agency has also issued new guidelines related to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere permitted from power plants, and the Supreme Court has recently determined most of these rules to be constitutional.

But while this may be the good news, unfortunately, plenty of bad news continues on unabated. I have recently been reading an interesting book called “Countdown” by Alan Weisman (also author of “The World Without Us,” which imagines the world, and its resurgence, after human beings become extinct). Weisman has a lot to say about where we are and where we are headed in regard to the effects of out-of-control population growth on climate change. What follows references just a small part of that report.

One essential question to investigate is: what is the optimum human population of the earth? This sounds simple enough, and to an extent it is, but it requires examining several other considerations before coming up with an actual number. The first of these prior questions has to do with the kind of lifestyle we are talking about for these earth inhabitants. And how, in fact, do we even measure something like lifestyle? One way that scientists have devised is by determining how many “terawatts” we use. A terawatt is a measure of how much energy is consumed by human beings (one terawatt equals one trillion watts). In 1993, a total of 13 terawatts of energy (13 trillion watts) were used by the earth’s 5 and a half billion people. In order to put this further into perspective, on average 7 and a half kilowatts of energy per person were used that same year by individuals in industrialized countries, and 1 kilowatt was used by each person in developing countries (all figures cited reflect standard forms of energy production, such as oil, natural gas, etc.). If these numbers are extrapolated and we assume continued current population growth, sometime this century (projected at the moment to be around 2082) there will be 14 billion people on the earth. Just for fun, go to www.census.gov. and take a look at something called the World Population Clock. You will note that right now we are at 7,174,896,000 people, and counting. It’s amazing, not to say daunting and even frightening, to see the numbers fly by on this clock, as you sit and watch.

But let us take a smaller number, say 10 billion people, and let us posit as an average 3 kilowatts per capita of energy usage. This still puts us at 30 terawatts (again, 30 trillion watts). At this level, and possibly even before, world systems begin to teeter. Indeed, some scientists predict a complete breakdown of the ecosystem. When will we reach that 10 billion number? No one knows precisely, as there are so many variables to calculate, but estimates put us somewhere between 9 and 9.7 billion people on the planet by the year 2050. That’s just 36 years from now. How old will you, or your children, be in 36 years? This is a question each of us should be asking ourselves, and we ought to be wondering what kind of world we will be living in at that date. And remember, these figures are relatively conservative, in that they posit a decrease of energy usage by some 4 and a half kilowatts per person for those in industrialized countries. This number is, however, actually achievable, if we continue, as we have, to work on ecologically friendly alternatives to energy production.

But we still have not answered our initial question, namely, what is the optimum world population? Again, we must make certain assumptions, the most important of which relates to the kind of lifestyle we wish to live. The 3 kilowatt per person figure mentioned above is not a bad one for such purposes, in that it is probably achievable, and it evens out energy usage between the industrialized world and the developing world. And surely we must assume that billions of people in the developing world (e.g. China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, just to name a few) are going to want, even to demand, more and more of what people in industrialized countries have for decades been enjoying.

For us to use 3 kilowatts of energy per person in order not to irreparably damage the ecological systems of the planet, that is, for us to expect a sustainable future for ourselves and our children, the optimum world population has to be about 2 billion people. This was approximately the number of people on earth in the year 1930.

In that year, the world used 2 terawatts of energy. But, we should bear in mind, it was also a world without all of the gadgets modern people have come to expect as part and parcel of a modern lifestyle: televisions, computers, cars and air travel for the masses, smart phones, tablets, central heating, air conditioning, and on and on. All of which are enormous energy consumers.  Calculating all this together, we reach an even smaller sustainable number of individuals on the earth. In other words, if we wish to continue using our cars and our computers and all of the rest listed above, the number of kilowatts needed gets raised to 4 and a half per person. And at 4 and a half kilowatts per person, the sustainable population of the earth drops to 1 and a half billion people!

How we are to bring the earth back to such numbers, particularly with the Rep. Paul Brouns of the world in charge, is another question. But clearly something has to be done. China started that process decades ago, and has made great progress with its one child per family policy, but is the rest of the world willing to put up with this kind of social engineering?   And religions abound which label it as sinful to “artificially limit” the size of one’s family.

Yet another question we have not explored is, if we presume that we will not reach this sustainable world population of 1 and a half billion people, or at least not any time soon, and if we continue on more or less as we are, what will human dominance of the planet look like in terms of space for other species? And here’s a self-centered question, if ever there was one, although it’s equally germane to human survival: if we have to say that some species on the planet “must go,” which ones go, and which ones do we allow to live, precisely because they are beneficial to human life? These are not just hypothetical questions at this point in history. They are real queries that will need to be answered, and answered before too long.

It is also true that the figures given by Alan Weisman are not necessarily the only numbers that scientists can spin. Even so, it does not take an advanced degree in demography to be able to see that more people means more demands on a limited number of resources. At some point, whether it’s in 2050 or 2082, or a bit sooner, or a bit later, some kind of tipping point will be reached. Maybe you will not be living at that time. I think I can say pretty surely that I will not be. But what of your children, and their children, and what of the other creatures on the planet, who have done nothing to contribute to the current mess we are in?

What can be said probably without much doubt is that, absent an almost inconceivably disastrous population reduction due to war or plague, a day of reckoning will finally come. And would it not be better to take steps now, while we still can, to stave off what none of us wants to see our offspring have to deal with?

“UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE” — Kevin L Miller Retrospective at Manchester University until Dec 4, 2013, about Life on Earth Imperiled by Climate Change

by Kevin L Miller

“The Flood,” 4x4 ft apocalyptic oil painting on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013

“The Flood,” 4×4 ft apocalyptic oil painting on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013

Deep in the Pennsylvania woods at the dead end of our dirt road, Robert Allen and I share a shabby old trailer house painting studio, a 150-year-old barn art gallery, and a hunting cabin slowly evolving into a cottage, on 12 wooded acres with a pond and stream. This is paradise and we love it. (http://tinyurl.com/nl6s9nm)

A few nights ago I dreamt that Robert and I were in a rowboat with our good friends Susan Finn and Jerry Lee Miller. We were all looking down through the water at the White House submerged below us. We were also congratulating ourselves on managing to procure our little boat, until we looked up and saw a mile-high wall of water racing toward us at top speed from the horizon. The End.

“Check,” lower left corner detail from “The Flood,” Kevin L Miller, 2013. I have grown impatient with subtler communications when it comes to climate change, because our window of opportunity to fix it is closing. Time’s up! So now I try to spell out exactly what my paintings mean. I hope this check does the trick.

“Check,” lower left corner detail from “The Flood,” Kevin L Miller, 2013. I have grown impatient with subtler communications when it comes to climate change, because our window of opportunity to fix it is closing. Time’s up! So now I try to spell out exactly what my paintings mean. I hope this check does the trick.

Robert and I both have one-man shows right now, across the street from each other at Manchester University, in North Manchester, Indiana. You can see my photo essay about Robert’s very popular show, “PLEASE TOUCH THE ART!” at http://tinyurl.com/mtyyrf5 .

"UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE -- Seven Decades Re-Imagined -- Kevin L Miller Retrospective at Manchester University, Gallery G, The Union, upper level, until Dec 4, 2013. Left to right: The Flood, Faucet Head, Magna Mater.

“UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE — Seven Decades Re-Imagined” — Kevin L Miller Retrospective, Manchester University, Gallery G, The Union, upper level, until Dec 4, 2013. Left to right: The Flood, Faucet Head, Magna Mater.

Over a year and a half ago we were invited to produce our tandem shows. I vacillated for a year about the theme for my exhibit. Finally I decided on Global Climate Change, when I realized that I have painted utopian visions and the great flood apocalypse throughout my life. That mile-high wall of water coming at us haunts me. Can’t we try to do something about it? There is still a little time. Isn’t there a moral imperative to save life on Earth?

“Hawaii,” 4x6 ft utopian enamel painting on clear vinyl, Kevin L Miller, c 1991

“Hawaii,” 4×6 ft utopian enamel painting on clear vinyl, Kevin L Miller, c 1991

The Earth is exquisitely beautiful, precious, special and rare. Astronomers and physicists searching the universe for other planets that might support life are telling us that worlds blessed with exactly the right narrow band of conditions for life are indeed extremely rare. Now our Earth-home is in jeopardy from human pollution, causing Global Climate Change. We live in peril of losing our habitat and our health, and endangering the lives of our children and grandchildren if we do not transition to clean energy quickly and stop four kinds of increasingly extreme removal and burning of fossil fuels:

  • Fracking for natural gas
  • Deep sea oil drilling
  • Mountaintop removal coal mining
  • Tar sands exploitation and piping
“Requiem,” 4x7 ft acrylic on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013 -- an apocalyptic painting including three quotes from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling.

“Requiem,” 4×7 ft acrylic on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013 — an apocalyptic painting including three quotes from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling.

Extreme extraction methods and fossil fuel burning are filling our atmosphere with CO2, now alarmingly over 400 parts per million, whereas our environment can only withstand 350 ppm without disastrous consequences, which are already upon us:

  • Earth’s polar ice caps and glaciers are melting at a catastrophic rate.
  • Greenland is melting and experiencing ominous internal seismic activity.
“Poseidon’s Prophecy,” 4x7 ft oil on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013. King Neptune brings apocalyptic news from the oceans to the utopian woodland spirits.

“Poseidon’s Prophecy,” 4×7 ft oil on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013. King Neptune brings apocalyptic news from the oceans to the utopian woodland spirits.

  • Our oceans are now 30% more acidic due to CO2 dissolving into the water. Coral reefs are dying. We are losing them as marine habitats and coastal flood control barriers.
  • 40% of Earth’s sea plankton, the base of our oceanic food chain, has already died. The food chain is fundamental.
  • Earth’s atmosphere is now holding 5% more moisture, and extreme weather and precipitation events are on the rise. We have “100-year storms and floods” every year now, like Super Storm Sandy a year ago. https://twooldliberals.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/mother-nature-sends-sandy-to-make-climate-change-a
“The R.L. Miller Farm,” watercolor, Kevin L Miller, 1966 (age 17,) depicts our family ancestral farm as it looked when I was a boy.

“The R.L. Miller Farm,” watercolor, Kevin L Miller, 1966 (age 17,) depicts our family ancestral farm as it looked when I was a boy, and when my father, uncle and aunts grew up there, just outside of North Manchester, Indiana, home of Manchester University.

  • The U.S. Midwest experienced the most severe drought in American history in the summer of 2012, and American food prices rose steeply as a result.
“Drought and Gathering Storm," Kevin L Miller, 2013, digital re-imagining of the R.L. Miller Farm, as it might have looked in the great drought of 2012, if the full-timber black walnut barn had not been demolished.

“Drought and Gathering Storm,” Kevin L Miller, 2013, digitally re-imagined version of the R.L. Miller Farm, as it might have looked in the great American drought of 2012, if the full-timber black walnut barn had not been demolished.

  • Biologists and zoologists tell us that there are no longer any climate change doubters in their ranks, as they are witnessing virtually all animals and insects moving north and to higher elevations in search of cooler climes.
“Firebird Visit’s the Elders,” 3x4 ft acrylic on canvas, 2-artist collaborative painting by Robert F Allen and Kevin L Miller, signed “Allen Miller,” illustrating both the utopian nature of Earth and the peril from climate change.

“Firebird Visit’s the Elders,” 3×4 ft acrylic on canvas, 2-artist collaborative painting by Robert F Allen and Kevin L Miller, signed “Allen Miller,” illustrating both the utopian nature of Earth and the apocalyptic peril from climate change.

Indeed, 97% of the world’s climate scientists and all 12 national academies of science, and the World Bank (http://tinyurl.com/k397rjf), and the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change, and Pope Francis I in the Vatican (http://tinyurl.com/kjwl2eo – the pope’s quote is at the end) are among a host of institutions raising the urgent alarm for action. 

“The Musician and the Tree of Life” 4x4 ft acrylic on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013, depicts the joys and burdens of an artist (in this case the Rev Jerry Lee Miller) coping with both the ecstasy of living in utopia, and the agony of expressing prophetic statements and art about the impending apocalypse, while making every effort to save the Earth for the children of tomorrow.

“The Musician and the Tree of Life,” 4×4 ft acrylic on canvas, Kevin L Miller, 2013, depicts the joys and burdens of an artist (in this case the Rev Jerry Lee Miller, musician and climate change activist) coping with both the ecstasy of living in utopia, and the agony of expressing prophetic statements and art about the impending apocalypse, while making every effort to save the Earth as a livable home for the children of tomorrow.

Time’s up! Now we really do have to transition quickly from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy and save the Earth as a livable habitat for all life forms. If we do not do so, what will we tell the children of tomorrow when they ask, “Why did you do this to us?” (lyrics from Jerry Lee Miller’s song, “Children of Tomorrow.”) What will you tell your children and grandchildren?

“Time’s Up,” marker poster on paper, Kevin L Miller 2012 -- responding to the July 19, 2012 Rolling Stone article, ( http://tinyurl.com/okyz2nc ) “Bill McKibben’s Terrifying New Math,” this poster was one of many created for the Lancaster, PA, brainstorming effort to form “The HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity” (See our FaceBook page) to take creative action and support all efforts to halt Global Climate Change.

“Time’s Up,” marker poster on paper, Kevin L Miller 2012 — responding to the July 19, 2012 Rolling Stone article, “Bill McKibben’s Terrifying New Math,” this poster was one of many created for the Lancaster, PA, brainstorming effort to form “The HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity” (See our FaceBook page) to take creative action and support all efforts to halt Global Climate Change.

Rolling Stone’s July 19, 2012 article “Bill McKibben’s Terrifying New Math,” awoke people around the world to the greatest survival challenge humanity has ever faced. http://tinyurl.com/okyz2nc 

  1. The Earth can only withstand 2 degrees Celsius warming without disastrous consequences, and we are almost there when the inertial rise built into the system is factored in.
  2. We can release a maximum of 565 Gigatons of CO2 into the atmostphere by 2050, but at our current rate, we will reach that ceiling in 2028 — only 15 years from now. 
  3. Companies and countries have already committed to extracting and burning 2,795 Gigatons of CO2 locked in proven fossil fuel reserves — five times the allowed limit.
Left to right: Firebird Visits the Elders, Hawaii, and Requiem are part of Kevin L Miller's retrospective at Manchester University, "UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE."

Left to right: Firebird Visits the Elders, Hawaii, and Requiem are on exhibit in Kevin L Miller’s retrospective at Manchester University, “UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE.”

The good news is that there is still a little time to turn this planetary crisis around, and there really are things that each of us can do. None of us has to save the world all alone. If all of us do our own little part — even if we do it badly — humanity will achieve critical mass for a change in consciousness and behavior, and we can leave a livable planet for future generations.

  • Can we buy an electric or hybrid car and use less fossil fuel? I know… Those cars are way too expensive for most of us…
  • Well, are we willing to become vegans or vegetarians? That’s one of the most effective things we can do to shrink our individual carbon footprints. But lots of us really love meat…
  • So, can we buy local products to reduce carbon emissions from shipping? That practice helps local economies, too.
  • Are we willing to write letters to public officials and call our congressional representatives? Or, if solitary action to speak truth to power makes us a little too nervous…
  • Can we join organizations like The Sierra Club, or 350.org, or Citizens Climate Lobby and support them with our resources and participation in their events?
  • Are we qualified to plan and facilitate community discussions on climate change? (http://tinyurl.com/lf3xdqm)
  • Are we willing to start our own local organization with friends? If so, here are some notes about how 13 of us started The HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity. (http://tinyurl.com/149g7lm)
  • Can we talk to institutional leaders about divesting from coal and other fossil fuels? If direct one-on-one talks with authority figures are too intimidating for some of us…
  • Are we willing to write letters to the editors of our local newspapers and urge others to do the same?
  • Can we start a climate change blog and open a larger dialogue?
  • Are we qualified to write poetry or plays, or to compose music, or dance, or paint, or make art of any kind about climate change? Art is a very powerful tool for transformation.
  • Do we know how to make a climate change quilt or bake a climate change cake, or create a T-shirt featuring “Don’t Frack Up the Earth!” as a slogan?
  • Can we urge our churches, colleges and universities and local or state governments to become involved?
  • What else are we willing to do to wake up the world and inspire everyone to take action urgently?
“The Revelations of Eve and Adam,” 16” x 20” acrylic on canvas, 2004, Kevin L Miller

“The Revelations of Eve and Adam,” 16″ x 20″, an acrylic utopian painting on canvas, 2004, Kevin L Miller

When we decide to take creative action on behalf of Mother Earth and the children of tomorrow, we find that we are not alone. Some corporations are beginning to realize, as I have been telling them for 15 years, that extinction is NOT good for profits! They are starting to take strategic action to save their bottom lines and ours. Even the Department of Defense has identified Global Climate Change as one of the greatest threats to U.S. security, and is transferring military operations to clean renewable energy sources, especially in the field. Nations like Germany and Spain and others are quickly getting off of fossil fuels and transitioning to solar, wind, geothermal and other clean energy sources. Cities, communities, and churches are taking leadership roles in creative action to save life on Earth.

“Woodland Spirit Guides,” 4x4 ft oil on canvas, 2010, Kevin L. Miller

“Woodland Spirit Guides,” 4×4 ft oil on canvas, 2010, Kevin L. Miller

There is a major benefit that comes with creative action to heal the Earth — It also heals us in the process. Fifteen years ago when I learned that the polar ice caps were melting due to climate change caused by humanity, I struggled with depression and nausea for a year. It took more years for me to discover that creative action is soul-healing medicine. Sometimes it feels like we have to choose between denial and depression. But there is a third way — creative action overcomes denial and depression and leads to fulfillment.

A display of Kevin's "Provence Style" landscapes is part of his retrospective. This style evolved out of his junior year abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, and his studies at the Ecole des Beaux Arts there, as well as his interest in Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Picasso.

A display of my “Provence Style” landscapes is part of the retrospective. This style evolved out of my junior year abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, and my studies at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, as well as my interest in Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Picasso.

Today I know that even spending a whole year making apocalyptic paintings yields nothing but increasing inner joy and peace. Rest assured that when you decide to take creative action, you will find that depression, denial, anger, fear and grief, will be transformed into fulfillment, clarity, peace, confidence and joy, and you will have the personal satisfaction of knowing that you have done the right thing, regardless of the outcome.

The Kevin L Miller Retrospective, "UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE -- Seven Decades Re-Imagined" is on exhibit in Gallery G, The Union upper level, at Manchester University, until Dec 4, 2013 (photo by Alison Stein)

The Kevin L Miller Retrospective, “UTOPIA and APOCALYPSE — Seven Decades Re-Imagined” is on exhibit in Gallery G, The Union upper level, at Manchester University, until Dec 4, 2013 (photo by Alison Stein)

AS HUMANS, WE THINK PRETTY HIGHLY OF OURSELVES

By Paul

It is probably not much of a stretch for humans to think of ourselves as pretty wonderful creatures, by and large at least.  After all, look at everything we have accomplished, not only in the present era, but in all of the history of the race.  We have moved rapidly from tiny groups of hunter-gatherers scratching out a living, to highly organized groups of farmers and city dwellers with multiple hierarchies of job specialization, from users of rocks to break open the bones of hunted animals to creators of machines that fly and, very nearly, ones that think, as well.  And these enormous leaps in both cognition and tool-making have taken place in an almost unbelievably short period of time.

As such, we often forget that the first animal that could accurately be associated with “anatomical human beings” emerged only something like 200,000 years ago.  That’s astounding enough, but then imagine that it was only 60,000 years ago that what we might call “true humans” first claimed their place upon the planet.  60,000 years!  That’s even less than the blink of an eye, shorter than the flash of lightning in the summer sky, compared to the 4.5 billion years of the planet’s existence, to say nothing of the 13.8 billion years the universe is known to exist.  In other words, in spite of all the importance we grandly give to ourselves, we are the newest of newcomers.

So, the question remains, what exactly was it that distinguished us from our simian cousins, or from any other creature on the planet for that matter?  And when did that “distinguishing something” emerge?  We won’t even ask the question of how it happened, since no one appears to have the slightest clue when it comes to answering that inscrutable question.  But the replies to the first two queries (i.e. when and what) are simpler to give.  Most scientists agree, as mentioned above, that “true humans” emerged in Africa approximately 60,000 years ago, and then somewhere between that point and 50,000 years ago we began several successive waves of migration from that continent.  Slowly, we drifted from place to place, populating one continent after another, and making homes for ourselves.  In the process, we ran into some earlier cousins of ours, namely Neanderthals (homo Neanderthalensis), the last of whom probably died out about 20,000 years ago, probably as a result of direct interaction with homo Sapiens (that is, with us).  So, what was it that “made us human,” and in the meantime what gave us such an edge over other creatures, including the bigger and stronger Neanderthals?  The answer is simple, if the act of doing so and its consequences are not:  humans were capable of symbolic thinking.  We’ve seen this because we have the archeological record that dates back into the early ages of prehistory, and that shows that humans were able to make not only artifacts, but also art. We know, for example, that our ancestors created pictures (i.e. cave paintings) and they carved statues that, in a sense, “stood for” something else.  No doubt, it was about this time, too, that language, as we think of it today, also first emerged, allowing and encouraging high levels of communication and organization.  And after that, the poor Neanderthals, to say nothing of all the even more mute beasts of the wild world, never had a chance.

In the tiniest of nutshells, that is a very quick overview of the evolving history of humankind.  We emerged from creatures who descended from trees and learned to live and thrive on the savannas and who organized themselves into coherent groupings of thinking, communicative, and self-referential beings, and in the process we have come to utterly dominate planet Earth.  And all this with lightning speed, such that there are now well over 7 billion of us living in every part of the world, even the most inhospitable, which – through our technology – we have made hospitable.  Our big brains have indeed served us well.

But if we are to continue to think highly of ourselves, we had better take a long, hard look at who we are and what we have become.  In terms of evolutionary maturity, as a race, we human beings are probably at best in our rebellious adolescent phase.  I want to emphasize that I am speaking of mass, or collective, consciousness here, not of individual examples of human beings.  Naturally, there have always been, and always will be, some people who are more advanced in terms of consciousness than others.  But again I am talking here about the pooled level of communal thinking that together shows our shared human consciousness.  In these terms, we have to admit, it is hard to think of us as highly mature.  If we were, why would we rely so continually and so insistently on violence as an obviously useless way of solving so many of our problems?  How many decades, how many years, indeed how many weeks or even days pass by on this planet, when somehow, someplace there are not people who are shooting at each other, hurling bombs or missiles at each other, putting others in jail, torturing, mutilating, even killing one another, because they are thought not to belong to the proper race, religion, political party, or sexual identity etc.?   How many of us consistently act with compassion when it comes to others, how many are quick to condemn but slow to forgive, how many dismiss and diminish those who look, sound, or act differently from themselves?   Indeed, as a species we may be highly intelligent, but we have learned little wisdom.

But given all this, the question can be asked, should we expect any more from ourselves?  We are after all, as we have already shown, very young in evolutionary terms.  Perhaps even to claim that we have reached the adolescent phase may be something of a stretch.  Remember how brief 60,000 years is in terms of planetary and cosmic history.  And yet, if we are to survive, it is surely in our own best interest, to say nothing of the interest of the planet as a whole and of all things living upon it, for us to hurry along in this maturation process.

The only way I know of to do so is for each individual to work on herself and himself, to put the time and the energy that it takes into learning, and growing, and developing, first of all in our thinking, and then in our actions.  In the end, there is no “deus ex machina,” no great hero to save us from ourselves.  Or, put another way, each one must become the hero of the story.  We have, in other words, no one to rely on but ourselves, and if we do not do the work, then we can be sure that it will not happen.  You may think that it all sounds too ominous to say that time is running out, but the truth is that it is.  Symbolic thinking is all fine, and it turns out we are quite good at it.  But what is needed now is not so much symbol, as action.  Run-away over population, pollution of the air, continued acidification of the oceans, warming of the globe, loss of biodiversity, extinction of whole species, diminishing land and water resources, growing scarcity of food, increasing disparity between the have and the have-nots, and threat of the use of nuclear weapons, are only some of the problems that come to mind.

But time has not yet run completely out.  We can still make a difference.  Let us honor our clever ancestors, but at the same time do whatever we can today for humanity and for the world we live in.  We know that we have such great potential.  It is the job of each of us to help maximize that potential, while at the same time minimizing the mistakes we have made in the past.  We owe it to ourselves and to our children, and to all life forms on Earth.  We have made a huge difference, and we will continue to do so.  But let that difference not draw from what is lowest and most negative within our human nature, but from whatever is highest, most positive, and most life-affirming.  We know we have the capacity; only now let us muster the energy and the will to make it happen.