Bare Bones Biology 113 – Thinking Compassion

A few days ago I heard Ray, at a Dharma talk at Upaya Zen Center, read this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, entitled “Kindness.” If you are reading this on the blog, I suggest you might want to go to the bottom of this page to download the original Bare Bones Biology podcast and listen to Ray’s beautiful rendering:

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye
from The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems

Well, I’m ashamed to say, as an American, that I never understood kindness until I had spent six months in Japan – I mean kindness as a way of life for its own sake. No strings attached. And that experience is one reason you have the opportunity to hear my thoughts about how we might be able to deal with this crisis that we are in.

I think it’s primarily a crisis of biology; I know it’s primarily a crisis of biology, because I’m a biologist, and that’s why I keep telling you various aspects of how humans interact with the ecosystem. Because the basic problem is not complicated; you can understand it as well as I can. But the solutions are not simple. Unless we want to ride this merry-go-round another time – well I don’t think we have another time for this merry-go-round because, all the other times around – war/peace/war/peace/war/peace/war/peace – all the other times around, the earth was able to provide us with what we needed to try to stay alive and try to solve our problems.

This is no longer true. This crisis is unique, and we cannot solve it by winning a war, or three wars or eight wars or however many wars we are doing right now. In fact I’m inclined to believe that these wars are mostly being staged by the corposystem to prevent we-the-people from understanding that we really are facing a crisis that will require us to hunker down to responsibilities that are very much more heroic than staging wars. We can’t solve it by growing another war.

Neither can we solve it by a concerted effort to teach compassion to everyone without regard to the fact that this is a biological crisis. At the root, it’s a biological crisis. We have never been here before, to the place where knowledgeable people have stated that, in 2007, we used 150% of the earth’s capacity to provide what we need to survive.

You might want to listen to the report on ecology to His Holiness The Dalai Lama, delivered by Diana Liverman from University of Arizona. Begin after the introduction, about 27 minutes into the video ). The powerpoint presentation that accompanied her report, will be linked to this blog under the heading Planetary Stewardship

In Texas or New Mexico, or in any city, you may not notice the devastating changes caused by our rape of the mother earth, because every generation believes their time of birth is normal, and because the damage is being mostly accomplished by destruction of other organisms and other peoples. But we cannot continue to survive by destroying other organisms. It is other organisms that generate air, water, earth and food energy on this planet. We might as well eat ourselves as destroy them, and that is essentially what we are doing.

So that’s why I began Bare Bones Biology. To help us find a way to combine our kindness – our compassion for the welfare of future generations – with basic fact-based knowledge about what the ecosystem requires to stay alive, and we must do this with a rule of law and an educational system that can maintain it.

Bare Bones Biology 113 – Thinking Compassion
KEOS Radio, 89.1, Bryan, TX
A podcast of this message can be obtained here
Or at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

Recommended References:
http://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/news/articles/111021dalailama.php
http://www.Upaya.org
http://youtu.be/OjMWC1Bz2xA (begin after the introduction, about 27 minutes in, or ask me for a copy of the podcast).
http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/all_publications/living_planet_report/2012_lpr/
http://Godlas.myweb.uga.edu/shihabnye.html

Bare Bones Biology 102 – Religion and Science

Where Christianity, and also other religions, seem still to be failing, is in the effort to understand the biological reality of overpopulation. Any religion that is based in love, compassion and kindness, in my opinion, has the deepest obligation to try to understand the ecosystem that gives us life — and our obligation to that life.

Certainly that is the message we get from the native peoples who have spoken out. Oren Lyons (Oren Lyons the Faithkeeper, interviewed by Bill Moyers) a Chief of the Onandaga, most eloquently warned us:

“We are now. Now is us. We’re the seventh generation. I’m sitting here as the seventh generation because seven generations ago there were people looking out for me. Seven generations from now, someone will be here, I know. And so each generation makes sure that seven generations is coming all the time. That’s accountability. We’re accountable. We, you and I, we’re accountable. Yes we are, and they are going to call us. They’re the ones that are going to say, why did you do this, or why did you not do this?” Listen also to NASA scientist Jim Hansen, for the scientific rationale.

So I will today give a very Bare Bones outline of the implications of world wide overpopulation, in my personal opinion and my professional opinion as a basic research biologist and geneticist. This is one of those tragic situations where the needs of level three (ecosystem) health conflict with the needs of level two (the health of the human population, and or economics, depending how one looks at it) which also competes with needs at the individual level (the health and welfare of individuals and their families). That’s exactly what happens when resources are not sufficient for the need –when, as in the graph, the food needs of the population are greater than the carrying capacity. In the case of the reindeer in this small area the result took place in a space of about 20 years, a little less. As is true for us on earth, the reindeer did not have access to food from any other place. I don’t like it any more than you do, but I challenge you to address this issue seriously, and prove that I am wrong before you settle back into denial mode.

Human populations world wide are now about at or somewhat above the carrying capacity of the earth, and our population is still growing. Our current solutions to this problem are 1) to destroy the earth, air and water of our home planet, and 2) to kill off millions of people, as we have been doing in wars all during the last century and this. Neither of these solutions is rational, because first they cannot be sustained and second, we now have the technology to provide a kinder future for our billions and for our host planet.

Our immediate action should be to make family planning available to everyone who wants it, worldwide. There is an unmet need of about 215 million couples. I am told by people in the field that many women who want contraceptive help — to pretect their own welfare and that of their children — are unable to get it. I do not understand why we believe that contraception is immoral but war, genocide and preventable starvation are not, especially as reduced populations would have less incentive to war and genocide; and even if these figures are off by a million or so, which I doubt, the implications for improving our biological sustainability are obvious. What we are doing instead is “educating women” while reducing availability of funding for family planning. This reminds me of the “abstinence” solution of one of our recent presidents, and I suspect it is based on that philosophy. It didn’t work even here in a country where contraceptives are readily available.

Our biological problem is that food for all living things comes from and is created inside of the ecosystem (by photosynthesis) and we have no other source for food and no firm expectation of finding any. As a result, we are killing off other species (using the food they need and poisoning them with herbicides and pesticides at high levels) in our efforts to make more food for ourselves. As a result of that, the ecosystem is becoming LESS HEALTHY and therefore less able to make our food, and also it is becoming LESS RESILIENT (think climate change) and therefore more likely to become uninhabitable for humans.

Meantime people keep asking why there are more and more poor and suffering in spite of our efforts to prevent this. The answer is that the only thing that CAN prevent an increase in need is to stop killing off other species (resilience) and to restore the balance between supply and demand (sustainability). The only way that humans can restore the balance is to reduce our population. We cannot make more food for ourselves because of the law of thermodynamics, which I can’t explain in one sentence, and even if we could make more food, we still would be destroying the resilience of the earth ecosystem. That is, its ability to stay healthy and make our food, our water, our air and our soil, which we cannot get from any other source .

Sometimes we wonder if these corpo-politicos understand what they are doing. Apparently they do. I have a recording of a young man who was raised and trained in one of the biggest of the big oil companies and who recently presented his opinion in an open hearing about whether or not one of these big pipelines would be built. His concluding sentence echoes the precautionary principle:

“If on one hand you had an unpredictable path that leads into a new dream, and a new way of life for all of mankind, and on the other hand you had another path that leads to the slow, inevitable decline of a civilization, which path would you choose?”

Bare Bones Biology 102 – Religion and Science
KEOS Radio, 89.1 FM
Podcast available here or at
http://FactFictionFancy.Wordpress.com

Recommended References

Oren Lyons the Faithkeeper, interviewed by Bill Moyers.
http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=11252309
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/

NASA Scientist Jim Hansen
Nasa scientist: climate change is a moral issue on a par with slavery
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/apr/06/nasa-scientist-climate-change?fb=optOut

http://www.earth-policy.org/

Precautionary principle http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_principle

Oil executive son’s powerful testimony at Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline joint review panel (includes transcript) Lee Brain, son of an oil man, receives a standing ovation and brings a crowd to tears after delivering powerful & inspirational testimony in front of the Northern Gateway Pipeline Joint Review Panel in Prince Rupert on February 18, 2012. http://youtu.be/1X3VynNZQaQ
http://energybulletin.net/media/2012-02-23/oil-executive-sons-powerful-testimony-enbridge-northern-gateway-pipeline-joint-revi

Bare Bones Biology 064 – Corposystem Power

When I opened my mailbox to the January issue of National Geographic with the word population plastered across a picture of seething humanity, I knew this would be the year when we humans, as a society, will choose the future for our home on earth. Finally, I said, someone in authority is telling us the truth about our ecosystem.

Not surprisingly, the corposystem responded with a barrage of self-serving lies. Most of these center around the root lie that we can live in a world where infinite growth is possible.

From my point of view, the good thing about their lies is that they make no sense at all, and anyone can do the math. Anyone can understand that the corposystem power will fail unless the corposystem changes its world view. Because the world view that it has built (James Hillman calls it a religion) is not based in physical, factual reality, and as time goes by the corposystem must tweak this and lie about that to make their little world seem as though it makes sense. But, as someone has said, physics will not wait around for us to catch on to reality. The factual reality of physics is what it is, without regard for anyone’s opinion or metaphor or ideology.

The fatal flaw of the corposystem ideology is its myth of infinite growth. In fact, infinite growth is physically impossible anywhere in our solar system. Unless it changes its ideology, therefore, the corposystem will fail. It is not showing any signs of ideological change, and instead seems to be trying ever harder to grow ever faster, and in the process is destroying the ecosystem that feeds it. Growth in the absence of resources is the defining characteristic of a Ponzi scheme. The corposystem is reaching the end of its Ponzi run, because the earth no longer has the resources to support further growth of the corposystem.

People do see this, but when you mention that we are at the point where we must choose between the corposystem and a healthy ecosystem, it seems that most people don’t want to do the math and would rather believe the lies. Then they pour out a bunch of reasons why we can’t or they can’t, or they simply deny the fact and claim that “all statistics lie.” That’s a pretty feeble excuse. Statistics tell us whatever we ask. If you want to know whether or not we are at the point of making this decision, you yourself can get the data and ask the question. In the meantime, as Al Gore said in An Inconvenient Truth: “It’s just human nature to take time to connect the dots, I know that, but I also know there can come a time of reckoning when we wish we had connected the dots sooner.”

The corposystem is now on the verge of crashing permanently because its growth requires more resources than the earth has to offer. Survival of the corposystem in its present form is not one of our options, so there is no point continuing to support it with our greed, our anger or our fear.

The crash of the corposystem will be very unpleasant, because we (not you, but previous generations) let it run on to this point. It will indeed be a disaster, but we shouldn’t forget, while we are dealing with the fallout, that the event will open more opportunities than it closes. Those of us who do not enjoy living in a culture that is based in negative human values, we will have the option to pitch out greed as the defining value of our social structure, and build our communities around our positive human values – some of which are glorious.

And the greatest of these is kindness.

Nothing but the propaganda in our heads can stop us from beginning now to build our better lifestyles.

Bare Bones Biology 064 – Corposystem Power
KEOS FM, 89.1, Bryan, TX
Download audio later this week from http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

Hillman, James. 1995. Kinds of Power, Its Intelligent Uses. Doubleday