Beautiful and Abundant

Publisher Bryan Welch on philosophy, farming and building the world we want.

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This essay is part of a longer work about the central role of mortality in sustainability, ethics and the human experience. It is scheduled to be published as part of a new book, Heroic Compassion: Life, Death and Destiny in the Human Epoch, in 2017.

We will soon face the necessity — and the opportunity — of voluntarily limiting our own life spans for the good of others.

We are almost ready to acknowledge the necessity of our own mortality. When we do, we will finally realize the full heroic potential of our species.

Our heroic potential is based on humanity’s unique capacity for compassion and sacrifice.

Walking along the beach 

Technology is helping us live long lives. A lot of smart people are working very hard to help us live even longer, maybe hundreds of years.  In fact, human longevity may be the central preoccupation of science today. We’ve actually doubled our life expectancy in the last 150 years. Various researchers today believe we’re close to curing diabetes, influenza, meningitis, heart disease, leukemia, breast cancer and prostate cancer. The big thinkers at Google have set their sights even higher. The giant search-engine company is funding broad research aimed at preventing aging itself with a vision of a world in which no person would ever grow old or, presumably, die.

Yet our mortality is necessary to the health, prosperity and the very survival of future human generations, not to mention every other living thing on this planet. The human population has more than doubled IN MY LIFETIME. Every environmental problem, every vexing puzzle of human sustainability, is traceable back to the rapid growth of our population. If we acknowledge that human overpopulation could exhaust resources and threaten the habitat, then human longevity obviously is a major risk factor.

So we may be called upon, individually, to volunteer to die.

The good news is, we are capable of realizing this necessity and of making this sacrifice. After all, people give their lives every day in the service of their societies. Soldiers, police officers, firefighters and physicians all risk their lives on a daily basis to protect other people. The evidence is clear: We will sacrifice our own lives for the greater good.

As a species, we now have the chance to realize this potential for heroic compassion on a global scale. Individually. One heroic person at a time.

When we acknowledge the necessity of our own deaths, we will fulfill humanity’s destiny as the most compassionate and heroic creatures in the universe, the only creatures capable of making this sacrifice consciously.

That’s pretty exciting, don’t you think?

The idea has changed my experience of life, entirely for the better. After it occurred to me that my own mortality was necessary to the health and happiness of future generations — including my own great-great-grandchildren — death was no longer so frightening. I mean, if I had the choice between immortality and children, I would choose to die. Rather than going on forever I would want those future generations of children to live in my place. When I realized I have chosen death, it suddenly doesn’t seem so frightening any more. Death is the destiny I want.

Plus, my new awareness of the human potential for heroic compassion caused me to see people — all people — in a new light. Each of the people surrounding me in the airport terminal is capable of heroic sacrifice. All the people on the train, each person in the restaurant, even the harried shoppers in line at the grocery store are each capable of accepting death so that others may live.

If we fail to meet the challenge, then the degradation of our only viable habitat — Earth — is on us. The extinctions are on us. The suffering is on us. In a sense, it’s an evolutionary challenge. We need compassion to survive. If we are wiped out by some environmental, military or health catastrophe related to overpopulation, then we have failed to adapt in time.

Past generations developed strong bodies and brains. They invented technology that has supported our expansion across the globe.

Today, the remarkable evolutionary challenge we face is literally a set of natural conditions requiring that we exercise compassion more effectively.

Photo by Fotolia/Natalia Sinjushina

Bryan Welch is the Publisher and Editorial Director of Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Connect with him on Google+.


By today’s standards, some aspects of my upbringing would be considered parental negligence.

Those were the best parts of my childhood.Love of Nature

I grew up less than a half-mile from the border between southern New Mexico and the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The border was calmer then, but our neighborhood wasn’t quiet. Smugglers and undocumented immigrants streamed back and forth across the ragged barbed-wire fence that marked the boundary. From our yard we could watch hundreds of illegal crossings in a day. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials staked out the hilltops and patrolled the sky in their aircraft, but they couldn’t hold back the tide. Crime rates were high, primarily because the wealth differential across the border made mundane U.S. possessions immensely valuable if they could be smuggled south.

Then we had the neighbors to consider. As kids, we were routinely told to avoid the trailer where “the pervert” lived. So we did. If I wanted to walk past the shack inhabited by another neighbor, an elderly, trigger-happy alcoholic known as “Old Man Pat,” my grandfather would call Pat on the phone. I vividly remember one such conversation. “Pat, are you drunk?” Grandpa asked. He listened to Pat’s response. “Well, OK. My grandson is going to walk past your house in a few minutes. Don’t shoot at him.”

Did I mention that the area was also infested with rattlesnakes?

That I was encouraged to wander the village and the surrounding sand hills with my friends is remarkable in retrospect. My mother would literally tell us to go outside and play “until the sun goes down.” So we did. We dug forts in the sand. Our parents just said, “That’s liable to cave in on you.” We hunted for arrowheads. (“Watch for snakes!”) We shot our BB guns. (“Don’t put an eye out!”)

I took a job helping with a neighbor’s goats, taking them to graze in the desert. By the time I was 11, I had my own horse and I could wander much farther, up onto the mesas or down to the Rio Grande. Out there in that rugged landscape, among the sandblasted shacks and junked cars, I was enchanted. I fell in love with nature.

Every naturalist and conservationist throughout history has shared a single inspiration: a love of the natural world.

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” — Aristotle (384 B.C. – 322 B.C.)Child In The Woods

Can we learn to love nature from inside a house or a speeding car? Possibly, but it seems unlikely.

“Our children no longer learn how to read the Great Book of Nature from their own direct experience or how to interact creatively with the seasonal transformations of the planet. They seldom learn where their water comes from or where it goes. We no longer coordinate our human celebration with the great liturgy of the heavens.” — Thomas Berry (1914 – 2009)

I would never have fallen in love with the natural world if it weren’t for the seductive danger and excitement I felt when wandering alone in wild places.

“Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God.” — George Washington Carver (1864 – 1943)

My own children had much less of that kind of freedom out in nature. My wife and I were typical parents of the 1990s. We believed we needed to know precisely where our children were at Child and Natureall times. That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? But it meant my kids never had a chance to wander alone in the woods listening to the voice of God. They walked in the woods with us, but that’s not quite the same thing.

“Keep close to Nature’s heart, yourself; and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. ... Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” — John Muir (1838 – 1914)

In his groundbreaking 2006 book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv suggests that our kids are suffering from something he calls “Nature-Deficit Disorder.” He believes that firsthand experience of nature is a critical part of human education.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” — Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

Wise people throughout history have recognized that nature provides intellectual stimulation, aesthetic satisfaction and spiritual solace.

“Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth Natural World Streamare never alone or weary of life. Whatever the vexations or concerns of their personal lives, their thoughts can find paths that lead to inner contentment and to renewed excitement in living.” — Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964)

“Come forth into the light of things, Let Nature be your teacher.” — William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)

“Believe me, you will find more lessons in the woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you what you cannot learn from masters.” — St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 1153)

If exposure to nature has been a formative experience for so many of our wisest teachers, how can we deprive our children of that instruction?

On the other hand, a child alone in nature is vulnerable.

I don’t question the vulnerability of children. Part of the magic of the natural experience, for a child, stems from the fact that the experience — and the danger — is vital and real. It’s instructive to note, however, that children often may be safer alone in the natural world than in their own homes. Medical conditions, car wrecks and shootings make up more than 60 percent of all child deaths, none of them the result of being alone in nature. About 90 percent of sexually abused children are victimized bImportance of Naturey someone they know at home.

We have cooped up our children to keep them safe, but safe from what? Wilderness is, arguably, safer than home for a great many children.

Clearly there’s no simple answer. But if my exposure to sunshine and wind, creosote bushes and yuccas, rattlesnakes, and the danger and exhilaration of empty places had always been directly supervised by adults, then I would not have loved the experience as I did. Between the ages of 8 and 13, I was in the desert every day, not just on special occasions when the adults could come along.

“What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives?” — E.M. Forster (1879 – 1970)

I think I’ll join Richard Louv in calling for universal experiences in the natural world as a fundamental part of every child’s education. Exposure to nature is at least as important as exposure to mathematics or literature. And I’ll do my best to give my grandsons the gift my own parents and grandparents gave me: unfettered, solitary time in God’s creation.

Photos by Laura Husar Garcia.

Mother Earth News Publisher and Editorial Director Bryan Welch is the author of Beautiful and Abundant: Building the World We WantConnect with him on .


You are growing, and we are growing, too.

Last year — in fact, for the past 10 years — MOTHER EARTH NEWS has been the fastest-growing major magazine in the country. Thank you for supporting what we do. We’re proud to serve you for many different reasons.

A company called Mediamark Research & Intelligence (MRI) measures magazine audiences for the advertising industry. They confirm that, among the 211 largest magazine audiences in the country, none has grown faster than the MOTHER EARTH NEWS audience — that’s you — over the past 10 years. During that period, our total audience has quadrupled.

Overall, magazine audiences have been shrinking lately. But not at MOTHER EARTH NEWS.Self Reliant Living Over the past six years, total magazine newsstand revenues across the country were down 37 percent. During the same period, our newsstand sales almost doubled. And your peer groups reading Mother Earth Living and Grit — MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ sister publications that are not yet among the 211 magazines MRI measures — have been growing even faster.

Why? Well, as much as we might like to give all the credit to good management, we actually think we’re growing because we have good audiences. Very good audiences — “good” in every sense of the word.

MOTHER EARTH NEWS and its siblings here at Ogden Publications are about doing good. When we try to describe our magazines, we often say they are about “conscientious lifestyles.” That’s another way of saying they are magazines for conscientious people.

More and more these days, we let you tell us what to put in our magazines. We send 10 to 50 email surveys to various groups of readers every week. (Join the MOTHER EARTH NEWS advisory group.) Based on the results of these surveys, we know that you love photos of heirloom tomatoes; you love gardens; you love barns and farmhouses; you are suspicious of the industrial food system; you enjoy growing your own food and making your own furniture; you believe natural remedies can heal most health problems (and you generally prefer those remedies); you are concerned about the future of our planet and our habitat; and you want very, very much to preserve a beautiful and abundant place where our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren can live.

Based on these common interests, we might all sound as though we’re cut from the same cloth. But MRI also considers your unique personality as an audience. Starting in 2013, they began asking members of magazine audiences how they would describe themselves, politically. It turns out that about 10 percent of you think of yourselves as politically “very liberal.” And about 21 percent of you think of yourselves as politically “very conservative.”

You feel more strongly about your beliefs on both ends of the political spectrum than average Americans do. Out of a random group of Americans, only 5 percent would call themselves “very liberal” and 12 percent would call themselves “very conservative.” That means MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers are about twice as likely as the average American to describe themselves as “very liberal” or “very conservative.”

Any engagement with the media these days would have you believe that average Americans are incredibly polarized — so that must mean you, as an audience, are in polarization overload, with little to bind you together. But that’s just not so.

Commonality in ConscientiousnessMother Earth News Fair

As editors, we generally don’t think about whether a reader is liberal or conservative. We’re looking for readers who are very conscientious — people interested in sustainability and self-reliance. And it turns out that people who are very conscientious tend to describe themselves as “very liberal” or “very conservative.” 

But your political differences apparently don’t extend to your feelings for gardens, tomatoes, farmhouses, pure food, a healthy human habitat or great-grandchildren.

Evidently, we all agree those are things that need to be preserved and nurtured. About the most important things, it seems you — and we — are aligned.

Not only were you the fastest-growing audience in the MRI study over the past decade, but you also spent more time reading each issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS than any other magazine’s audience spent reading that publication’s pages — even when compared with magazines that are twice as thick or twice as wordy. 

In addition, you made MOTHER EARTH NEWS the magazine most likely to be a reader’s favorite out of all the large magazines in the country.

All of this is tremendously exciting for us, of course, and it’s encouraging in bigger ways, too. The diversity of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' audience reflects a new direction for society.

For more of Bryan Welch’s ideas on MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers’ common interests, check out Self-Reliance Is the Tie That Binds, Part 2.

Top: Photo by Michelle Allnon: A shared desire to live sustainably brings increasingly large audiences to the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Fairs.

Bottom: Photo by Bryan Welch: The magazine attracts fans from diverse backgrounds.

Bryan Welch is the Publisher and Editorial Director of Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Connect with him on .


Tech for Transformation

When people consider the change that Tesla Motors’ electric cars have brought to the automotive industry, they sometimes compare founder Elon Musk to Henry Ford. But that comparison doesn’t seem adequate. Musk is building a network of solar-powered charging stations to be available coast to coast by 2017 while he simultaneously runs one of the country’s largest solar contractors and the most important space-travel company on the planet. It’s as though he’s the amalgam of Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller and Albert Einstein.Elon Musk

What he is, undeniably, is a visionary. His ambitions go far beyond merely creating the product itself. For example, his stated goal is not to build great cars at Tesla. His goal is to build the best cars ever made, powered by the most efficient energy source, and supplied by a network of charging stations, mechanics and stores across the continent.

SolarCity was devised to convert as many households as possible to solar electricity. At his space-exploration company, his goal is to colonize Mars. In August, he unveiled his latest enterprise: the Hyperloop, a high-speed, solar-powered electric train that would travel in a vacuum tube and carry passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes.

Musk hasn’t accomplished any of his achievements alone, of course. Tens of thousands of people work for his companies. His colleagues helped design the beautiful cars and spaceships. Accountants keep the books and arrange the financing. Writers build marketing packages. Artists create the logos and imagery. Each new accomplishment represents a festival of human ingenuity.

When I first drove the Tesla Model S, Denton Holt, from Tesla Motors’ Colorado store, took me on my test drive. His business card says he’s one of Tesla’s “Senior Ownership Advisors.” He says that when he got out of college, he never thought he’d be selling cars. Now he expects to be selling cars for a long time.

“I want to be with Tesla until we realize our full potential,” he says. He expects Tesla to be one of the planet’s leading car manufacturers in a future where most cars are propelled by solar-generated electricity. Like his boss, Holt exudes a high level of confidence.

Vision can be intoxicating, especially when it’s backed up by achievement.Space X Dragon

In the book I wrote three years ago, I visualized a world in which I could commute in an electric car charged with solar power generated on my own farm. I thought I was being pretty ambitious. Today that vision is a reality, and I obviously have to dream bigger.

MOTHER EARTH NEWS has always been primarily focused on creating a better future. Over the past decade, it has been the fastest-growing large magazine in North America. That’s because all of us — not just visionaries like Elon Musk — are increasingly more interested in creating a better future. We are all visionaries, to one degree or another, all picturing a better world.

When it comes to addressing environmental problems and assuring the future of humanity, you are not indifferent. You want improvement.

We are witnessing it every day.

For more of Bryan Welch’s ideas on technology and a healthy future, check out Environmental Problems Are No Match for Human Ingenuity, Part 1.

Top: Photo Courtesy Tesla Motors: Elon Musk, 42, embodies the term "visionary."

Bottom: Photo Courtesy SpaceX: SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft has twice resupplied the International Space Station, a first for privately funded space travel. It is the only spacecraft capable of returning large cargo to Earth.

Bryan Welch is the Publisher and Editorial Director of Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Connect with him on .


I want to tell you a true story with a happy ending, one that’s happening right now. Its heroes are engineers, artists, bankers, farmers — and you.

With our eyes figuratively swollen shut because of the steady beating we take from much of the news media, we sometimes can be numb to the amazing technological advances taking place in our time.

I recently found that one sees these advances more clearly through the windshield of a Tesla Model S electric automobile.Tesla Model S

I test-drove the Model S on a country road in the Colorado mountains. The experience blew my mind. I’ll never think of cars in the same way again.

I love cars. I always have, though I do realize they’re a primary source of air pollution, and their thirst for fossil fuels has aggravated other environmental problems, caused political strife and created economic injustice. Automobiles are also astonishing examples of human ingenuity and vision. A good car can be like a beautiful sculpture, a superb piece of furniture, a fine tool, a supercomputer, a thrill ride and a rocket ship, all rolled into one sweet creation.

Then there’s the Tesla. It is all of those things, plus its propulsion does not rely on fossil fuels or involve political strife.

Its existence, on the other hand, does rely on idealism and vision — just the qualities that can make human life sustainable and human achievements heroic.

Elon Musk is the CEO of Tesla Motors and the principal designer of its cars. He’s an entrepreneur and a technology billionaire with several business successes behind him, including Web software company Zip2, which he sold for $307 million in 1999, and PayPal, which he sold for $1.5 billion in 2002.

After those accomplishments, he had some pretty comfortable laurels he could have rested on. But he didn’t. Instead, as soon as he sold PayPal, Musk set about replacing the space shuttle.

That’s right, the space shuttle. Musk’s third company, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), designs and builds spacecraft. He thinks space exploration is, in the long term, critical to preserving humanity. So when our government began scaling back its space program, Musk scaled up his private alternative. In 2009, one of his rockets put a satellite into orbit. In 2012, one of his shuttles delivered supplies to the International Space Station. At the end of 2012, SpaceX had about $4 billion in launch contracts for both private and government payloads.Solar City

Musk is not just a rich guy playing with rocket ships. He’s a businessman in the business of building rocket ships for profit — and the business is doing well. Musk recently said he wouldn’t take SpaceX to the stock market until his “Mars Colonial Transporter is flying regularly.” In other words, he’ll continue supporting the company with his money until he’s realized his long-term vision: a colony on Mars.

In his spare time, Musk conceived of and helped create SolarCity in 2006, the nation’s largest full-service solar power provider. He is chairman of the company, which provides a sort of one-stop solar-power shop, including designing, financing and installing solar-energy systems, then also monitoring the systems’ performance.

Somewhere along the line, in about 2002, Elon Musk decided he could build a better automobile. Then he did it.

The Tesla Model S

The fundamental reason the Tesla is that “better car” is simply that it’s 100 percent electric. Electric is better because an electric motor converts stored energy (in the batteries) into kinetic energy (at the wheels) about four times more efficiently than a gasoline engine.

All gasoline is refined from crude oil pumped from the ground and then shipped — often from overseas — to the refineries, pipelines and trucks that distribute it to your gas station. But electricity can be produced in a variety of ways, and many of them are as renewable as sunshine. More people every year are using electricity provided locally through hydropower, geothermal, solar and wind-based generators. Most of the electricity that powers my own electric car — a Chevy Volt — is produced by a rack of photovoltaic solar collectors on top of my barn. You can’t get much more local — or efficient — than that.

In the driver’s seat, it’s easy to forget that the Tesla Model S is significantly more efficient and Earth-friendly than a gasoline-powered economy car. It provides one of the world’s most extraordinary driving experiences. The big sedan goes from zero to 60 mph in a little more than four seconds. And because the electric motor delivers the same torque at any speed, the Tesla Model S can accelerate from 60 to 120 mph almost as fast. It’s quicker than most Ferraris, Porsches and Lamborghinis. There is no transmission, no shifting — just seamless power instantaneously, whenever you need it.

The car weighs nearly 5,000 pounds — about the same as a Ford F-150 pickup — but 1,000 pounds of that is its 7,000-cell lithium-ion battery, located in a flat tray underneath the cabin. This gives the car quite a low center of gravity. Combine that with its computerized traction and stability controls, and you have a fast car that handles superbly — comparable to the six-figure sports cars.

The Tesla Model S isn’t cheap. The basic model starts at about $64,000, which figures in a $7,500 federal tax credit. Various states and municipalities offer other incentives for electric vehicles, such as free parking and state tax credits.

But truly innovative technologies are often expensive at first. When the personal computer first hit the mainstream market in the mid-1980s, the IBM Personal Computer XT cost $4,995. Given the way prices for personal computers have declined over the decades, a safe bet is that the price of the Tesla Model S will diminish, too. In May 2013, Musk told Bloomberg TV news that he will have a “compelling, affordable car,” priced below $40,000, ready for market in three to four years.

What do the car nuts think of it? It is Motor Trend magazine’s 2013 Car of the Year, Automobile Magazine’s 2013 Automobile of the Year, and Consumer Reports calls it “the best car ever tested.” The Model S received the highest score the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has ever given, which makes it the safest car ever manufactured.

Based on the evidence, it’s also most likely the best car ever made.

The U.S. government helped Tesla (and SpaceX and SolarCity) get started, but Tesla paid off its $465 million federal loan nine years early, in May 2013, and made its first profit that month. Now the company is selling its revolutionary powertrain to Mercedes and Toyota. And the future for ultra-efficient, ultra-safe cars is truly beginning.

For more of Bryan Welch’s ideas on technology and a healthy future, check out Environmental Problems Are No Match for Human Ingenuity, Part 2.

Top: Photo Courtesy Tesla Motors: Tesla Motors’ Model S electric car helps reduce air pollution and dependency on fossil fuels while providing one sweet ride. Motor Trend named the Model S 2013 Car of the Year, and Consumer's Reports gave it its highest safety rating ever.

Bottom: Photo Courtesy Solar City: SolarCity, the nation’s largest full-service solar provider, furnishes solar power to more than 68,000 customers, including Walgreens, eBay, Intel and the U.S. military, as well as schools such as this Scottsdale, Ariz., elementary school.

Bryan Welch is the Publisher and Editorial Director of Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Connect with him on .


After 50 years of reading Bible passages and listening to others read and discuss the book, the story of Jesus of Nazareth has suddenly become stunningly, blindingly relevant to me. Here was a spiritual savior whose principal lesson was the voluntary sacrifice of his own life for the good of others. He said, explicitly, that the only path to God was through his example. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[i]

And His example is the voluntary sacrifice of his own life for a greater good.

Jay Takes Flight

Jesus even acknowledged our direct, intimate connection to future generations and the web of life, a connection that is consummated in death. At the Last Supper on the night before His execution, He served bread and wine to the disciples who would carry his message forward. Breaking the bread he said “This is my body given for you; do this is in remembrance of me.” Even more pointedly he said, serving the wine, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”[ii]

And so God invites us to share in this New Covenant, to give our own flesh and blood for the good of future generations. It seemed, as I read those words, that Jesus was speaking directly to a human dilemma now at the forefront of our consciousness 20 centuries after his death. We have proven that our technology can push cultures aside and extinguish life forms if they don’t support our expansion and prosperity. We can alter God’s creation until it seems to be almost purely a reflection of human dominance and the human ego.

And we may be on the verge of living much, much longer than previous generations, compounding human population growth.

But still the words of a wise prophet echo across the millennia, telling us the salvation from our sins is achievable only through mortality – voluntary mortality.

I have come to believe that continued expansion – both in our numbers and in our life spans – dooms future generations of human beings to increased misery and a steadily diminishing quality of life. The splendor of God’s creation will be progressively corrupted as we pack the planet more and more tightly with our cities and machinery. Birth rates diminish, but then life spans increase. Every form of habitat destruction is justified by the need to feed, house and clothe more people.

Since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, it seems we’ve been working full time on our species’ expansion. From a biological perspective, it is the most natural of all goals. From the perspective of virtue, it personifies the very nature of human sin.

The New Covenant, which expiates our sin, seems to me now to be shockingly simple. Our New Covenant is sanctified in the voluntary, individual sacrifice of our lives for a greater good.

Please don’t mistake me. I will never advocate the imposition of mortality by any human being on any other. I believe killing another human being – in war or for any other purpose – is wrong. And Jesus’ example is, quite explicitly, an example of voluntary mortality.

For that matter, I don’t support laws or rules that impose birth control. From my perspective, we are doomed unless we can accept these necessary sacrifices on an individual basis with free will.

If we impose limits on life span or fertility through any of our authority structures, we will only feed ongoing conflict and human strife. Neither governments, nor religions nor communities can dictate mortality or fertility to individuals without inspiring resistance and backlash. Imposed limits might hold back the tide of destruction for a little while, but they won’t provide any sustainable benefit.

Our salvation is contingent on voluntary sacrifice.

Only through selfless, voluntary, individual sacrifice can we expiate our essential human flaw and restore the Garden. We have to accept mortality as the necessary and – if voluntary – heroic alternative. We must divert the resources we are using to mindlessly expand human life and work and invest them, instead, in the improvement of all life both human and non-human.

To do that, of course, we have to change our minds.

Photo by Bryan Welch

[i] Holy Bible, New International Version. Book of John, Chapter 14, verse 6. Retrieved October 26, 2013.

[ii] Holy Bible, New International Version. Book of Luke, Chapter 22, verses 19-20. Retrieved October 26, 2013.

Bryan Welch is the Publisher and Editorial Director of Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Connect with him on .


Abundance is necessary to creativity. In business, we measure abundance in financial capital. Without sufficient capital, we can’t be creative, because we can’t try anything that isn’t certain to work. Similarly, we need surplus capital — food, open space, clean air and water — if we are to help all people live rich, creative lives.

Two variables affect abundance in our world. The first is supply. We depend on the planet’s natural resources, and those resources are limited. The second variable is demand. Demand we can control.Sunset

Two primary variables also influence demand for resources. The efficiency of our usage determines how much of the world’s natural bounty each of us requires. We can improve efficiency, to some extent. The second variable affecting demand is population. No matter how much we improve efficiency, the number of people our planet can support is ultimately finite.

Once I acknowledge that limitation, I find myself thinking, well, why are we always talking about the inevitable growth of human population? Why not envision an ideal population instead?

Because in my vision I’ve already set aside 20 percent of every earthly biome for wilderness, I might set my own ideal human population at 20 percent fewer than our current population of about 7.1 billion people. That would put us at about 5.7 billion people, the world population in the early 1990s.

What the heck? While we’re idealizing, why don’t we allocate a little more room for nature and take us back 30 percent, to a total human population of 5 billion — as it was in 1988. That’s a shocker, isn’t it? Our population was 30 percent smaller when former President George H.W. Bush was elected.

When I suggest something like this in a talk, some wiseguy always asks who I’m going to kill. When I write about it, I get letters from people who ask which of their children they should eliminate. The answer, of course, is none. But if most of us choose to reproduce ourselves only once — if each couple has two children — the total human population will soon begin to decrease. We can simply agree, as a species, that 1) two parents and two children make a great family; 2) untrammeled nature is vital to our quality of life; 3) everyone’s life will be better if we eliminate the ugliness of slums and extreme poverty.

Just think: We could have wild elephants and mountain gorillas in a world of 5 billion people. We could have oceans teeming with fish, and vast grasslands where bison and wildebeest roam free, forever. We could provide clean water for every infant, food for every new mother and a warm, comfortable bed for every elderly person — always.

Why not?

If we commit ourselves to this understanding of abundance, we can halt the irreversible tide of species destruction. We can celebrate the diversity of life on this planet and set a standard of preserving it, by the mutual consent of people around the world. All of our food can be naturally wholesome and nutritious, except when we’d rather have it otherwise. We can live on farms or in cities, as we wish. We can live at the edge of the mountain wilderness or the edge of the ocean. Some of us might choose to live simply and work very little, but we can set some minimum expectations for everyone. Most of us will work hard to achieve something — new discoveries, inventions, works of art or greater personal wealth.

In a stable human population, corporate success will be determined by criteria other than the greatest number of products at the lowest price. The value of scale will be reduced; the value of quality will be enhanced. Companies and products that support our shared values of beauty, abundance and the preservation of nature will earn more. Quality will be defined, in part, by how well a company or product supports those values. Innovative, conscientious companies will succeed. Less innovative companies will try harder. Our possessions will be beautiful and durable.

As our population stabilizes, territorial conflicts will become absurd. With more land, more energy and more food available each year, military conflict will seem more wasteful and stupid than ever. We can decommission most of our armies. Rather than competing via faster jets and more powerful bombs, we’ll race to see who can preserve more natural beauty and attract more tourists. Who can print the most beautiful books? Who can build the most reliable and elegant machines? Who has the best skiing? Who has the best beach?

Is it unrealistic to believe we can agree that clean air and water are essential, limited resources that must be conserved? What’s so crazy about wanting a couple of kids and no more? Why not imagine — and build — a world of beauty and abundance?

That’s what I’m aiming for.

Photo By Bryan Welch: Access to the natural environment ought to be the birthright of every human being on the planet.

For more of Bryan Welch's ideas on a beautiful and abundant future, check out A Vision for a Better World, Part 1.

Bryan Welch is the Publisher and Editorial Director of Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Connect with him on .

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