The Degradation of the Natural World
I thought this needed to be read by as many people as possible. This article appeared in the latest Pygmy Kayak catalog, John Lockwood is, other than president of the company, the designer of some wonderful wooden kayak kits. That has nothing to do with this blog. Full disclosure, I am the owner, builder of one of their Arctic Tern 17 kayaks.
By John Lockwood, President Pygmy Boats Inc,
Printed in Pygmy Boats Catalog, September 2018
Last year I wrote you a letter titled “A Love of Public Lands”. The center spread in this year’s catalog is again an article from me about wild lands (see page 14). When I was little, like most kids, I loved to be outdoors and was hard to call back inside. My dad started taking me on float trips when I was five. He got me a pair of chest waders when I was six. Gave me a fly tying rig when I was 9 which I totally got into. My dad quit fishing in 1953 when I was 11 because there were too many people on his favorite float streams and the native fish stocks were depleted.
By the time I was in my twenties I had stopped fishing for everything except sunfish caught on a fly rod and carp shot with a bow and arrow. I became an expert cook of both species, and sunnies and carp were still plentiful and happy. But my ultimate response to degrading waterways and proliferating “No Trespassing” signs, was to buy a kayak. And in 1969 I took off by myself on a two and a half month kayak trip down the Yukon River. I saw only two other boats on the river and zero “No Trespassing” signs on the entire trip. I have been heading back into the far north ever since. But…. This too will not last.
This year’s article is much more personal despite the fact that it is filled with statistics. These numbers are the only way I know to tell you the truth of how my world has changed. It was personally painful to write. I try to tell a chronological story, to start with the natural world and lay out the chain of cause and effect to where we are now. I end at what I see is our present catch point, the place we are stuck. It is a sad, dark tale with all the characteristics of a Greek tragedy, filled with greed and blindness within our epoch’s chosen method of survival. I did my best; I don’t know how to tell the story of where we are at now and how I feel about it in another way.
A Ground Breaking Assessment of All Life on Earth Reports:
60% of All Mammals are COWS & PIGS – 36% are HUMANS –
Only 4% are Surviving WILD Mammals
“All living things were not made for man” Alfred Wallace, 1869
“Let me be taken care of in the simple ways a wild place offers: a few fish, or crabs, snails, clams, limpets, rabbits, berries, and greens. Let me take lightly from a place that still has abundance. Give me the moods of the wind, the rain. Let me sleep in the sun. Let me use my body and I am ecstatic. It never fails. The wilderness offers me these gifts.” John Lockwood, Pygmy catalog 1998
A Groundbreaking assessment of all life on Earth reports that “The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things. Yet since the dawn of civilization, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants.” Agriculture and livestock grazing has had a devastating impact on life on earth. 70% of all birdlife on earth are now chickens and domestic foul. 60% of all mammals are cows and pigs, 36% are humans, 4% is all that is left of all wild mammals.
“Civilized” man has terraformed the globe removing 50% of all terrestrial plant life”, while “The total biomass of crops cultivated by humans is estimated at only ≈2%“. Plants account for 82% of all life on the planet and this 50% loss represents a massive reduction in the bio productivity of the entire earth (from “The Biomass Distribution on Earth”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 21, 2018).
It is not an exaggeration to say that in next 200 to 500 years we will have killed every living thing on the planet that is not for sale. Everything that can’t be sold will be removed and replaced with something that can be. And every bug that eats our crops, every animal that has the nerve to eat the grass that “belongs” to our cows, and anything else that reduces the market value of “our” biosphere will be killed.
Our oldest positively dated Homo Sapien ancestors lived 300,000 years ago. For 290,000 years (97% of our life on earth) we lived an ecologically sustainable lifestyle in cultures based on sharing gathered food and on community support. In 10,000 BCE we had a world population of 1 to 5 million people. Since then, the human population has exploded to 7.6 billion, adding an astounding+ 6.6 billion people to the planet in just the last 218 years!
I was 31 years old when the 1973 Endangered Species Act was passed by a vote of 355 to 4 and celebrated by none other than arch-conservative Richard Nixon for protecting “an irreplaceable part of our natural heritage–threatened wildlife.”
This consensus lasted for just 17 years–until Ronald “GREED-IS-GOOD” Reagan went on a binge of deregulation and welfare for the rich that drove wealth to the top 1%. Reagan chose the infamous James Watts to be Secretary of the Interior, who opened up federal lands to clear-cutting, ranching, mining and other commercial development. Watts set a record for listing the fewest number of new species under the Endangered Species Act.
Forty-five years after its passage, Donald Trump is gutting the endangered species act again and has stripped 2,008,124 acres from Bear’s Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments for cattle, coal, uranium and oil and gas (see Pygmy’s last catalog’s “My Love of Public Lands”).
Both Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump gave massive tax cuts to the rich, believing in the “magic hand of the market” despite over 3,500 years of repeated market collapse in the historic record. Their faith remains unshaken despite the simple logic that uncontrolled markets will catch and sell the last fish in the sea as its rarity raises its price. Don’t doubt this; remember we killed 85 million buffalo and 5.5 billion passenger pigeons – the most numerous bird that has ever lived on earth is now extinct and they are part of the statistics presented here.
We humans have lived on earth for 290,000 years. We hunted and gathered plants and animals that were genetically adapted to survive in the deserts, forests and grasslands where we lived. We used the best food storage technique that has ever been invented – which was to leave our food alive on the hoof or in the ground.
Our economy was based on sharing. We worked only 18 to 22 hours a week on all subsistence related activity, had the same percentage of people over the age of 65 as Europe did in 1870, and we were taller and in better health than those who replaced us in the early Neolithic era (after the domestication of a few plants and animals).
I was taught in grade school that before the arrival of human civilization life was short and a constant struggle for survival. That, and pretty much everything else I was taught about history, culture and economics, was an ethnocentric lie.
The problems we face now are global in scope; how can we expect them to be solved by leaders of industry and government who celebrate greed and are so focused on individual wealth and status that they will kill every non-monetized living thing on the planet to get it?
While these are hard truths to swallow, I’m not of the belief that there is nothing we can do. Such a belief rejects at least 290,000 years of human experience. Believing that your ancestors were miserable for 97% of our history is inaccurate. Believing that civilization is wonderful belies that fact that most of us can’t sing or dance or tell jokes anywhere near as well as the Pygmies. Believing that humans have reached a new and elevated level of consciousness is an absurd conceit that requires us to be blind to the alienation of industrial life and to what we have done to the planet.
According to Forbes Magazine, March of 2018, the 2008 billionaires around the world have $9.1 trillion dollars of personal wealth. That is more than the wealth of bottom 50% of the planet’s population. The top five by rank, country and number of billionaires are:
1. Greater China (819), 2. USA (585), 3. India (131), 4. Germany (114) and 5. Russia (96). But the 3 richest men in the world are all American and they also have a combined wealth, which is more than that of the bottom 50% for their fellow Americans. The US and Russia are the most economically un-equal countries in the industrialized world.
The richest 400 people in the United States have a combined wealth of $2.7 trillion. Many of these men have gotten mega rich off cheap foreign labor by outsourcing their jobs. Many of the corporations they own pay little or no taxes. Think Apple, the worlds first trillion dollar company, which manufactures nothing in the US. Or Qualcomm, one of Apple’s few US suppliers, who also has outsourced all of their manufacturing overseas. Apple holds $252 billion in profits offshore, where it can avoid paying U.S. taxes.
Reversing our destruction of wild animal and plant life on the planet and the mass changes we have made to the chemistry of the earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and soils will take trillions of dollars. But it is obviously easier and cheaper than making a paradise out of Mars that has no atmosphere, no oceans and no soil. Such are the grandiose pipe-dreams of Jeff Bezos, the richest man on Earth, who barely pays any federal income tax at all (See online article “Jeff Bezos is A Genius At Not Paying Taxes”). Taxes are important. Any country whose health and welfare depends on the charity of the super-rich is in deep trouble. We cannot depend on the enterprise or the “magic hand” of the rich to save the planet. Conversely we can count on the corporations they own to eliminate or skirt tax law, anti-trust law, environmental law, lobby law, campaign finance law, inheritance law…. etc.
Although trained in anthropology and computer science, I became a dedicated student of the American economy starting thirty-six years ago when I was in my early forties. In my opinion a good place for us to start saving the planet is by passing the Accountable Capitalism Act that Elizabeth Warren introduced in congress on Wed 15 Aug 2018. Under this legislation, large corporations would be required to not just consider the financial interests of shareholders but also those of their employees, customers, and the cities and towns where those corporations operate. A group of academics studying the economics and history of corporations, led by the Cornell University law professor Robert Hockett, endorsed Warren’s bill. I join them in endorsing Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act.
We must come together as a body politic. We must elect men and women who will spend our tax dollars on the health and welfare of our fellow citizens and the planet, instead of welfare-for-the-rich and bombs and bellicose posturing. VOTE. Donate $27 to multiple non-corporate candidates.
By: John Lockwood, President Pygmy Boats Inc.
For feedback and comments please e-mail me at: Pygmy.Anthropocene@gmail.com