Beautiful and Abundant

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

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9/11/2013

Every idea you find within the pages of MOTHER EARTH NEWS has been inspired by the same goal: the creation of a beautiful, abundant, healthy planet for future generations. We favor practical ideas that can be implemented by regular people in the real world. Those ideas always begin with a positive vision and a belief in the power to change.

A few years ago I started crafting — and re-crafting — my own idea of the healthy world I wanted to leave for future generations. Among other legacies, I want my great-grandchildren to live in a place that is beautiful.

Anyone who has traveled in the developing world during the past 30 years has seen the vast slums that engulf many cities. Slums occupy decaying sections of old cities, and newly built shantytowns often surround more affluent urban areas. Worldwide, about a billion people live in slums today, and the United Nations expects this number may double by 2030.India Slum

Slums are densely populated eruptions of minimal human shelter — shacks, shanties, sometimes cardboard boxes. Generally speaking, slum dwellers are barely protected from the weather. Their sewage is untreated. Their children are not educated. Increasingly, the world’s slums host a variety of toxic occupations, such as recycling used computer parts and scavenging landfills.

Slums are not beautiful. I’m sure we could find some beauty in them — some people do manage to create beauty wherever they are — but ugliness remains one of the slum’s defining characteristics.

An absence of beauty often indicates an absence of health, and slums metastasizing around the world are indicators of a profound economic disease. As we’ve enhanced the lives of the world’s richest human beings, economic inequality has grown like a cancer.

It’s not that the living conditions of the poor are the worst ever. Throughout recorded history, a certain number of unfortunate people lived without shelter, clean water or adequate food. Their condition hasn’t changed appreciably in the entire span of human history. The richest residents of the 21st century, on the other hand, live lives of luxury that past kings and emperors couldn’t have imagined. The rich need never smell an unpleasant odor nor see an unpleasant sight. From birth to death, they have access to temperate air, clean water and exquisite entertainment. In a few hours, they can reach any terrestrial destination that pleases them. They have drugs that can soothe almost any pain.

And they live, quite often, within walking distance of a slum.

Healing Economic Inequality

In my vision of our human future, to foster beauty, the poor must be elevated. I don’t imagine a world in which economic disparity has been eliminated — the opportunity to improve our individual standard of living is a tremendous source of energy that fuels enterprise and innovation. Filling the gap between what we have and what we want can be a powerful motivator.

I do envision a human society that no longer tolerates inhuman conditions. I see a world in which people don’t go hungry, because we no longer put up with starvation. Today, we have enough food to eradicate hunger, but we haven’t collectively decided that doing so is necessary.

The poor will, by some definition, always exist. But we have the power to change the definition. The poor should have food in their pantries, doctors in their neighborhoods and beauty in their lives. In my vision, no nation will tolerate anything less.

The poor, and everyone else in the world, should also have access to magnificent, unaltered nature.

In nearly every literary tradition across the world, untrammeled nature remains an essential standard for beauty. A Libyan novelist writes movingly of the virgin sand dunes of the deep Sahara. A Canadian poet describes a frozen lake in the Great North Woods. And a Pygmy storyteller sings of the subtle, changing beauty of the African jungle.

Nature’s beauty is often the standard against which we measure man-made art. Art elaborates on nature. Without nature to refer to, could we even define beauty?

I have been privileged to visit most of the planet’s ecosystems, from subtropical deserts to the ocean floor, grasslands to tropical rain forests, alpine tundra to northern boreal forest. Every natural environment is beautiful in ways we cannot imagine. We must preserve natural beauty for precisely that reason — because we could not conceive of natural beauty on our own without nature’s inspiration.

People who design modern zoos use a criterion they call “flight distance.” Most animals have a prescribed distance they would run, if frightened, before they turned to look back. If a zoo enclosure is built at least a little larger than the animal’s flight distance, the creature is calmer and healthier. If designers don’t allow for flight distance, the animals are neurotic, combative and less healthy.

Besides beauty, wilderness also provides us with our own flight distance. As long as there are empty places on the planet, our minds can flee to those places of wild beauty when they have the need.

So in my vision, some quantity of every unique ecosystem across the globe will be preserved in its natural state. Perhaps we can reserve at least 20 percent of each continent’s landmass for wilderness, allocated to each biome, each ecosystem. In the United States, 20 percent of our grasslands, 20 percent of our forests, 20 percent of our swamps and at least 20 percent of our deserts will be permanently preserved as God created them, open to visitors but not vehicles. Whatever natural resources they contain will remain unexploited, by popular consent, forever — as a testament to our commitment to beauty, and to abundance.

I want my great-grandchildren to live in a world that is not only beautiful, but abundant.

Photo By Ranveig Thattai: Slums throughout the world host a level of misery most of us can barely imagine — and frequently exist in intimate proximity to some of the greatest wealth 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 2.


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



9/16/2013

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 .



3/7/2014

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 .


9/13/2013

I want to die.

I am not miserable. I’m not even slightly depressed. I’m in no hurry, particularly, but I want to die. I want to die because I believe it is the superior alternative, in every way, to wanting NOT to die.

One of my goals is to make you want to die, too.

The sort of death I want will not be a defeat. I will not “succumb.” I will not “surrender.” I will die heroically, so that others may live. My individual light will fade. Millions of other lights will be ignited from the ember.

That’s the way life has always worked.

My death will be heroic, but not unique.

I’m looking forward to it - the end of my physical life. That’s the finest thing about wanting to die. Imagine all the times, over the course of a day, a year or a decade, we are possessed by the fear of death. Consider how much of a life is spent preoccupied by pointless anxiety about death. What a waste.

In contrast, every day of my life since I decided I wanted to die has been relatively free of the fear of death. Of course I flinch when I’m cut off in traffic. I still watch my moles and freckles for signs of melanoma. I’m still scared of heights. But my new commitment to my own mortality has lifted my spirits immeasurably. I used to accept death’s inevitability. Now I celebrate its promise.

Mortality has gotten a bad rap. We have focused on its negative aspect. Yes, Mortality implies the end of our individual lives. But it also connotes our perpetual lives as a physical part of something much greater — the entirety of creation. Mortality is life’s central miracle. Energy begets life; life concludes in death; death begets life; and so on.

I’m a farmer. I’m in the Mortality business. Each year I foster and nurture dozens of lambs and calves. Then I preside over their deaths and distribute their meat to my family, friends and customers. My lambs are raised on grass. My grandsons are raised on lamb. Other lives — and deaths - provide the basis for our lives.

In this respect, Mortality is a simple fact, supported by science: The physical evidence of the unity of all energy and all life is abundantly obvious.

After I decided that death might be a personal choice, I was struck by the heroic potential in making mortality a conscious decision. As we are increasingly able to lengthen our lives and perpetuate our health, the notion of death is transformed. Death is our ultimate opportunity to consciously give back. It’s our most profound responsibility. If we do it mindfully, it’s our crowning achievement.

As we saturate our habitat, death’s utility becomes obvious.

If we cure cancer, we’ll need to build the equivalent of another New York City metropolitan area next year, in addition to our present expansion rate, in order to accommodate the 8 million people who aren’t killed by the disease.[i][ii] If a miracle drug suddenly lengthened overall human life expectancy by 10 years, the rate of human population expansion would accelerate by 150,000 people per day — 54 million a year – necessitating the construction of about seven additional New York Cities every year.[iii]

As I see human expansion destroy 140,000 unique biological species every year,[iv] as I watch natural habitats paved over for parking lots and devoured by slums — in effect, as I watch the impact of thriving human life on the health of the global habitat — I grow more and more acutely conscious of the importance of human death. Human mortality is critical to the health of our planet and future generations of human beings.

Death, our age-old enemy, has switched sides. Now death is our ally. 

Muslims, Christians and and Jews all believe in a Garden of Eden. In our creation myth, we were expelled from that perfect garden when we developed our unique human self-consciousness. Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and it gave them egos. That was the end of paradise.

Ancient scriptures suggest that we will return to the garden.[v] I love that vision. Of course, it depends on two important achievements: First, we must preserve a beautiful, abundant natural habitat – our garden, as it were. And second, we must triumph over the human ego, which got us thrown out of paradise to begin with and has typically tried to perpetuate itself at all cost.

Our growing potential for extremely long lives – or even something like immortality – creates a parallel potential for an even greater achievement. If we acknowledge that the conservation of the essential miracle of life depends on our mortality, then we illuminate an opportunity: We may voluntarily embrace mortality. We may, finally, triumph over the human ego. And that may be the greatest challenge, and the greatest achievement, in the history of humankind.

Resources

[i] World Health Organization.  Media Centre.
[ii] New York City Department of City Planning. Current Population Estimates. Retrieved June 21, 2013.
[iii] United Nations Population Division. World Population Prospects: The  2010 Revision. Retrieved July 31, 2013.
[iv] S.L. Pimm, G.J. Russell, J.L. Gittleman and T.M. Brooks, The Future of BiodiversityScience Magazine Issue # 269, Pages 347–350 (1995)
[v] Rabbi Ken Spiro. “End of Days.” Retrieved September 13, 2013. 

Photo by Bryan Welch


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


1/21/2015

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+.



10/28/2013

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. http://biblehub.com/niv/john/14.htm. Retrieved October 26, 2013.

[ii] Holy Bible, New International Version. Book of Luke, Chapter 22, verses 19-20. http://biblehub.com/niv/luke/22.htm. 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 .



11/5/2013

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 .



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