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           Visionary Perspective - The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

                                                                                                          Earth Manifesto Insights

                                                                                                              Dr. Tiffany B. Twain  

                                                                                                             October 2005

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment released in July 2005 provides mankind with both a stark warning and compelling reasons for hope.  This Assessment confirms that the human race is unsustainably consuming natural resources, and that at the same time we are significantly degrading the ecosystems upon which we completely depend.  The report makes it clear that the harmful consequences of this degradation will grow worse in the next 50 years.  Thus it is critically important that we make bold changes in our attitudes, behaviors, actions, markets, institutions and public policies.  

"Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet's ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted."  Yikes! --- We must heed these overarching risks!

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is the most comprehensive document ever published regarding the growing existential challenges facing the human race.  This assessment was prepared by almost 1,400 experts in 95 countries after 4 years of research that was focused on human ecosystem impacts and the probable consequences of changing conditions on human well-being. (For details, see the website at www.MillenniumAssessment.org).

The Assessment extensively analyzes not only the growing problems confronting us, but also the best hopes and the many options and the tremendous scope of potential positive actions that could and should be undertaken to avert the growing potential for environmental and social calamities.  Unfortunately, business-as-usual politics and most of the forces that defend established power and privilege are manifesting an increased rigidity, aggressiveness, opposition to social justice, doctrinaire unfairness, and stubborn dogmatic resistance to progressive change.  Humanity must alter its course, and embrace healthy initiatives that could lessen the severity of the damages we are causing.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment should contribute to our awakening to the true nature of our interdependencies, and to the real seriousness of ecological challenges.  It provides us with common sense strategies and new, bold, honest and enlightened ways to protect the health and vitality of our environment.  It emphasizes that we must protect and enhance vital ecosystem services.  And we must conserve resources, minimize pollution, mitigate the production of toxins and greenhouse gas emissions, and strive to help preserve biological diversity.

Humanity's basic needs, together with the powerful motives for greed, money, power and control, are combining to wastefully and unsustainably use up natural resources, and to harm ecological systems that are critical to the health, balance, and prosperity of the human race.  In addition, mindless consumerism and rapid population growth not only threaten our own well-being today, but also that of all future generations.  And our impacts are diminishing the fundamental biological diversity of life on planet Earth.

Caring about the environment should be a kind of instinctive self-preservation.  Such concerns are not some form of misguided liberalism.  Mankind is winning a string of Pyrrhic victories over the natural world at a staggering cost.  The terrible extent of the harm and adverse consequences of these "victories" is becoming more and more clear as our human activities increasingly dominate and threaten to overwhelm natural systems.  We must not fail to effectively address problems caused by pollution, depletion, resource exhaustion, environmental damages, militarism, and regressive economic and social policies.

The majority of human beings struggle to meet their basic physiological needs for food, shelter, and security, as well as their psychological needs for belonging, acceptance, and accomplishment.  It is up to more highly self-actualized, progressive-minded people to demand that societies strive for values that are characterized by greater public-spiritedness, vision, depth, meaning, connectedness, empathy, and nobility of purpose.  Grassroots movements must support broad and positive social action.

Progressives must step forward to thwart the narrow and selfish interests that defend the status quo.  They must speak truth to manipulative forces of entrenched power.  They must strive to offset the reactionary strength of regressive and repressive ideologies.  Republican conservatives and established Churches, as epitomized by the new Pope, are highly motivated to dominate and control society by cynically "putting the smackdown on heresy", but humanity is arguably in ever-greater need of intuitive wisdom, open-mindedness, and adaptive flexibility.  We must be more willing to enact long-term-oriented visionary change.  We must establish fairer social policies, create greater ecological sanity, encourage peaceful coexistence, improve mutual security, foster religious tolerance, empower women, and encourage the use of contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies and reduce the transmission of sexual diseases and slow population growth.

We must move in the direction of sustainable actions, for the fact is that sustainability is the key purpose of existence.  All forms of life strive to survive, and survival is synonymous with a sustained existence.  Therefore, activities that are sustainable represent the ultimate utilitarian and moral good.

It is ethically and morally wrong to allow the forces of exploitative capitalism, resource depletion, environmental damage, doctrinal rigidity, traditionalism, and defense of the privileged to irreparably harm people and the prospects of future generations.  Profit-obsessed corporations, right-wing Republicans, and conservative religious leaders today dominate our decision-making and our institutions.  We cannot afford to continue allowing greed, corruption, orthodoxy, and shortsightedness to become so powerful and fashionable that we can no longer see the truth.  The truth is that the only way for us to survive and prosper is to boldly transform our societies in response to changing circumstances.  We must use our wisdom, reason, far-sighted intelligence, technological innovation, progressive understanding, spiritual concern, and passionate caring for the greater good.  

The health of our children and their descendents is more important than ruthless strategies for increasing short-term profits for Big Business at the public's expense.  We must prioritize our decision-making so that all issues are resolved in favor of choices that benefit the public health and welfare, instead of giving greater power to corporations to pollute and degrade the environment and to deplete resources and to advance business prerogatives at the expense of social well-being.

We must courageously transform our societies in response to unprecedented social, demographic, and environmental changes that are taking place.  We must shift our priorities and make radical changes in the ways that Earth's ecosystems are treated at every level of decision-making.  We must dramatically curtail the degradation of Earth's habitats and ecosystems.  

New avenues of cooperation between individuals, businesses, government, civil society, and other nations must be developed and embraced.  Those who defend the status quo must accept changes to our current economic and political systems.  We must redesign them in ways that ensure we respect the importance of healthy ecosystem services.  Local communities must help to protect the environment.  More enlightened policy-making must be implemented in such areas as investment, trade, incentives, green taxes, sensible farsighted regulation, technology, positive innovation, international banking, and foreign policy.

Some say that "environmentalism is dead";  that mankind is triumphing over nature;  that God is going to whip the Devil, with some absolute form of good triumphing over a clear evil;  that faith will save us;  and that the free market will ensure that everything will automatically work out for the best.

Yet our world is clearly flawed due to growing insecurities, serious social inequities, grave injustices, and extreme unfairness of privilege.  A growing lack of community, and confusion and alienation caused by both envy and contempt, are contributing to this malaise.  Economic and political tyranny and abuses of power are making things worse rather than improving them.  Aggression by defenders of the Establishment and retaliation by terrorists are causing terrible injustices.  Civic indifference and Procrustean conformity in the face of needed change are likewise having adverse effects.

Imagine a better world.  It's easy if you try.  Hope, confidence, optimism, positive dreams, faith, and nobility of intention provide a wholesome starting point.  But wishful thinking alone is inadequate.  Critical thinking, clear reasoning, freethinking, fair-mindedness, and committed caring are valuably important to the future.

It is a great irony that in our collective struggle to make ourselves more secure, we are inexorably creating ever-greater mutual insecurity.  Fear-fanned worries about terrorism assails us, so we are spending hundreds of billions of dollars to attack and repress this tactic.  Yet militarism, aggression, prisoner torture, and born-again self-righteousness in the face of injustices and religious fundamentalism are approaches that exacerbate problems instead of helping to solve them.  

Far greater threats than terrorism loom before us.  Degradation and destabilization of ecosystems, together with human exacerbated changes in the global climate, are putting tens of millions of people at risk.  We must change our priorities in recognition of the seriousness of these dangers.  

The best way for the human race to ensure its survival and prosperity is to be flexible and nimble in adapting to rapidly changing conditions.  As our understanding becomes more and more clear and comprehensive, we must act more intelligently to adapt our behaviors and institutions to wiser ways of living and being.  We could and should strive to make ourselves safer by enacting fairer economic policies and programs that are more just and humanitarian.  We must create more sustainable development initiatives and more cooperative international agreements and more ecologically sound policies.

In addition, we must recognize that our species' often-desperate struggle for survival represents a terrible adversity to millions of other species of life.  We are becoming the worst living scourge in the long history of life on Earth.  We are insidiously upsetting the health, balance, beauty and sustainability of natural systems.  We are devastating many of the species of life that we share the planet with.  We are doing this by over-harvesting wildlife, over-fishing the seas, and clear-cutting rain forests.  We are destroying habitats, fragmenting Earth’s ecosystems, extensively exploiting and depleting mineral and fresh water resources, and altering the global climate by pouring greenhouse gases into the skies.  And we are introducing pest species into new niches worldwide, and creating and dispersing pollutants and poisonous toxins, and rapidly increasing our needy human numbers, and idolizing hyper-stimulated economic growth, and borrowing enormous sums of money from the future.

The result of this assault on the diversity of life constitutes a grave threat to our own well-being as well as to that of all future generations of our descendents.  We are figuratively sawing off the limbs of the tree of life upon which we are ever-more precariously perched.  We are speeding towards the precipice of Peak Oil, and of a dangerous scarcity of fresh water.  We are sowing the seeds of heightened conflict over resources, and of social instability that is being driven by increasing injustices and overpopulation.  We are creating a dangerous imbalance between what Nature can provide and the demands of desperate human needs and growing desires and the arrogant compulsions of carelessly unbridled greed.

We must wake up and pay more concerned, mindful attention!  The maelstrom of obsessive activities in pursuit of meeting the needs of our daily lives tends to blind us to perspectives that more clearly recognize the ecological Bigger Picture.  We are figuratively failing to see the forest for the trees.  Deeper purposes and meanings are too frequently being overlooked in our preoccupation with materialistic pursuits, perks, privileges, busy obligations, chores, sensational news stories, sporting diversions, and selfishly myopic involvements.  We must find ways to reform the economic status quo, and to mitigate the strength of entrenched resistance to necessary positive change.

We also need a greater open-heartedness and broad-mindedness to help us cope successfully with widespread poverty on Earth.  We need the courage to act wisely in the best interests of future generations, rather than continuing to pander to misguided, retrogressive, shortsighted vested interests.

There are, of course, many ways of looking at things, and many possible interpretations of experiences and occurrences.  There are many opposing worldviews and viewpoints.  The range of competitively partisan interests in our societies is astoundingly extensive.  An infinite variety of circumstances exists, and a great subjectivity.  There is a great depth of complexity of ideas, involvements, perspectives, and implications.  Dilemmas and conundrums abound.  Yet truth is not some arbitrary, unknowable, mythological, or relativistic notion that is independent of reason.

In the final analysis, our behavior and institutions must be modified to be more respectful of moderation and the striving for greater good and a commitment to fair policies as characterized by the Golden Rule.  We must begin to understand and accept greater truths about society, and life, and our interconnectedness with nature.  This is necessary in order for humanity to foster a just, sustainable, and healthy future.

I have a dream, and that dream is that one day there will be greater justice, better equality under the law, more widespread freedom, and greater civic-mindedness, intelligence of action, far-sightedness, ecological sanity, and mutual security.  Wisdom simply must triumph over ignorance and shortsightedness;  generosity and fairness must win out over greed and corporate privilege;  and compassionate understanding must prevail over hard-line selfishness and vindictive self-righteousness.

These opinions are my strongly felt and passionate perspective.  I hope that the reader will see their value, and take action in whatever ways that they are able.  We must help to improve conditions and alter the harmful trends identified in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.  Please peruse other ideas in the Earth Manifesto for more comprehensive ideas on how this can be done!


     Dr. Tiffany Twain     


Note:  See One Dozen Big Initiatives to Positively Transform Our Societies and the Progressive Agenda for a More Sane Humanity in Part Four of the Earth Manifesto for good ideas on how to accomplish the daunting changes that we need.