Crystal Clear Conceptions
An Earth Manifesto essay
by Dr. Tiffany B. Twain
February 1, 2008 (Revised January 2009)
ever in existence has been marvelously well adapted to the conditions
pertaining in the particular ecological niches and ranges that they inhabited.
This seems to be a definitive proof that the epic of biological evolution involves
adaptation to competitive forces and changes in physical conditions of habitats
and climate on Earth.
More than 99%
of all species ever in existence are extinct, and are known to us only through
the fossil record. Scientists estimate that there are anywhere from 5 million
to 100 million species alive today. Unfortunately, the human race is adversely
affecting the habitats and conditions of the vast majority of these life forms.
This is contributing to the highest rate of extinction in many millions of
What are our
responsibilities to these other forms of life? What are our responsibilities to
each other, for that matter? What are our obligations to future generations?
It is my
passionate opinion that we must begin acting more responsibly, more fairly,
more sustainably, and more in accordance with common sense in becoming better stewards
of our home planet. Instead of protecting our Mother Earth, however, we
subdivide it and call the land ‘real estate’ and alter it and speculate on it.
We create economic bubbles by implementing policies that encourage production
and consumption, no matter how wasteful and unfair and shortsighted these
activities may be. We embrace ideologies that justify irresponsible profit-making
and ruthlessness of exploitation. And we tend to ignore ecological warnings of
resource depletion and environmental harm.
Plato was one
of the world’s greatest philosophers. He felt strongly that good judgment is
needed in the choice of social goals. He believed that humanity must clearly
understand the appropriate means to attain these goals. Plato’s teacher Socrates
advocated skepticism and open-mindedness as keys to critical thinking and good
judgment. We would be well-advised to embrace the broadminded and progressive
ways of seeing things that these great philosophers represented. Reason,
knowledge, innovative thinking and good education can be seen to be important to
establish just and peaceful societies.
Plato lived in ancient
Greece during the 4th Century B.C. The two primary factions that
vied for power in Greece at the time were the oligarchs (the few and the
wealthy) and the democrats (the many and the poor). Plato saw that rule by
either the oligarchs or the democrats generally led to undesirable results.
The wealthy had only their own special interests in mind, so during times that
the oligarchs were in control they would go to great lengths to defend the
advantages of the few against the common good. During the times that
democratic forces ruled the nation, the people were easily swayed by the
emotional and deceptive rhetoric of ambitious politicians, so Greece was involved in numerous atrocities and terrible injustices and disastrous wars.
More than 2,400
years have passed since the days of Plato, and dramatic changes have taken place
in our technology, communications, medicine, urbanization, the means of waging
war, and the number of human beings on Earth. But little has changed in human
nature and the fundamental dynamics of politics.
our great and noble American experiment in government “of the people, by the
people and for the people” is faltering. The principal reason for this state
of affairs is that the best interests of the majority are being undermined at
every juncture by greed, corruption, shortsightedness, ignorance and ruthless
competition. Money buys power and unfair influence, and this often subverts
the general welfare, distorts our economy, perverts our governing institutions
and causes harm to millions of people.
“We have the best government that money can buy.”
--- Mark Twain
In the United States, we have been governed from 2001 to 2009 by a coalition of wealthy people,
social conservatives, demagogues, religious fundamentalists, war hawks and
ideologues who advocate that corporate privilege is of the utmost importance.
Our leaders have sided with these narrow interests and used divisive politics
to create a new Gilded Age of profligate consumerism and expanded inequalities.
This has resulted in a growth of inequities and global injustices and diminished
civil liberties and intensified strife and wars of aggression to obtain resources.
have mismanaged our nation by facilitating regressive changes in taxation. They
have used shortsighted borrow-and-spend fiscal policies and indulged in
wasteful and fiscally irresponsible spending. They have pursued an
unconstitutional civil-liberties infringing expansion of executive power. They
have irresponsibly allowed large corporations to externalize costs onto society
and the environment, essentially seeking to privatize the benefits of
national wealth while socializing some of the costs. And they have
implemented highly inegalitarian domestic policies.
are having a detrimental impact on the majority of people on the planet, and
they have ominous implications for future generations. Plato concluded that
rule by the wisest citizens would be the best way to govern a nation. It seems
obvious that it would be a good idea for the wisest citizens to rule, but the
problem is that it is difficult to prevent special interests and wealthy people
from wheedling their way into power and abusing that power. These are our
modern day challenges: to structure our governing institutions so that they
are immune to abuses of money and power, and to prevent leaders from advancing narrow
agendas that create increasing inequities, extensive hardships, grave
injustices, heightened risks of bankruptcy, more dangers of blowback
repercussions, and widespread environmental harm.
Truman was famous for saying, “The buck stops here.” George Bush, the
self-proclaimed “Decider”, rhetorically agreed. But for all practical
purposes, the actions of President Bush exacerbated the most important national
and international problems. His tax and war policies radically ramped up our
national debt. He launched wars in the Middle East from which it is proving to
be extremely difficult to extricate our nation. He opposed actions to reduce
emissions of greenhouse gases and to mitigate global warming. He increased our
dependence on fossil fuels by acting to give further subsidies to the oil
industry instead of making more intelligent national investments in energy efficiency
and energy conservation and fossil fuel alternatives. His Administration
effectively delayed the day of reckoning related to these challenges. And he
also helped ensure that when the day of reckoning does come, the consequences
will be worse and far more difficult to deal with successfully.
The United States is the sole superpower in a world where fossil fuel supplies are being
steadily depleted and the human population is growing rapidly. We are
consequently facing a complex and convoluted set of challenges. A prominent
1997 Neoconservative manifesto, sensitive to our addiction to fossil fuels for
our economic prosperity, indicated that it is a ‘geostrategic imperative’ for
us to achieve and maintain ‘American Primacy’ and domination of the world.
Unfortunately, instead of helping to create social justice, peace, fairness,
humanitarian goodness, individual liberties, sustainable existence, enlightened
understandings, and ecological sanity, this Neocon manifesto called for American
military dominance. Inevitably, this Project for a New American Century created
greater injustices and heightened conflict and more aggression and ruthless
repression and ecological folly.
Malthus, a British demographer and political economist, predicted that the
population of human beings on Earth would rise steeply because of the
industrial revolution. He forecast that the growth in the number of human
beings would eventually and inevitably exceed our ability to produce enough
food to sustain the population. Malthus made his predictions around the year
1800, when there were about one billion people on Earth. More than two
centuries have passed since 1800, and the number of people alive has increased
by more than 600% to about 6.7 billion. Industrial agriculture has made great
strides in being able to feed this expanding population, largely due to the
availability of high energy fossil fuels that help plant and fertilize and
irrigate farmlands and increase crop yields. Simultaneously, people’s average life
span has increased from less than 50 years to more than 75 years in
industrialized nations. Considering this progress, some say that Malthus was wrong.
probable to me that sometime this century Malthus will be conclusively proved
to have been prescient and correct. Malthus was essentially saying that at
some point we will be forced to live sustainably. The signs are becoming
increasingly clear that our population growth is not sustainable. The
condition known as Peak Oil portends the beginning of decline unless we soon
find clean and affordable alternatives.
In the past 50
years alone, human activities have caused rapidly accelerating negative impacts
on our sustaining environment, and we have become increasingly aware that new ecological
problems are arising. Pesticide poisoning came to international attention in
1962 with the publication of Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring, and soon
thereafter people began to recognize the need to protect clean air, clean water
and wilderness areas. Other significant environmental problems have subsequently
come to our attention, like deforestation, acid rain, ozone-layer damage, algal
blooms, collapsing fisheries, global warming and climate change. It has become
more apparent that nations worldwide are facing fresh water scarcities, resource
depletion, garbage and animal waste disposal problems, habitat destruction and
increasing rates of species extinctions. In addition, conflicts over the
control of energy and land and water resources have become more difficult to
understandings are the ‘writing on the wall’ indicating that, if we do not plan
better and somehow control our population growth, the result will be severe
resource shortages, ecological collapse, catastrophic starvation and more wars.
The prosperity and survival of our race is dependent upon the health of the
global commons, whether or not we recognize this fact.
It is one of
the simplest but most profound insights of deep ecology that everything is
intertwined. Everything is interconnected and interdependent. We humans
depend on the well-being of natural systems and ecosystem services for our own
physical and psychological well-being. We cannot long sustain a healthy
economy without taking bold steps to ensure that our environment remains
A major factor that
has contributed to the growth of our population and the increases in our
average individual longevity is the use of copious amounts of fossil fuels.
These resources are uniquely convenient and high in energy, but they are limited
and non-renewable. Their use is damaging our lands and our fresh water
supplies and even altering the composition of Earth’s atmosphere. We are now
very close to the point at which 50% of all known reserves of oil have been burned
up. This means that declines in oil production are imminent and inevitable.
For this and other reasons, the price of a barrel of oil increased from about
$10 in January 1999 to over $145 in June 2008, before falling back dramatically
due to the credit crunch and recessionary factors.
represents one of the most serious crises in human history. It is nearer and
may well be more of a threat to our civilizations than most people can
imagine. Remember that there are more of us every day, and the general
trajectory is for each of us on average to use more every year. In this one regard,
economic recession has a silver lining, because it reduces the total amount of
oil that is burned annually.
The Big Picture
of oil politics is simple: we are squandering irreplaceable fossil fuels at an
alarming rate because we are highly dependent upon fossil fuels for almost
everything we do and consume. Production of oil and natural gas is near its
peak, and diminishing supplies are already conflicting with high demand. Most
of the remaining reserves of crude oil are concentrated in geopolitically
unstable nations like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria and Venezuela. We should be making Herculean efforts to move toward conservative and efficient
usages of fossil fuels, and we would be wise to invest heavily in the
transition to cleaner and less polluting alternatives to fossil fuels.
unfortunately dictates that most nations are putting their focus on striving to
get additional supplies. The United States seems to be intent upon using its
military supremacy to gain control of oil-producing nations. There is a
serious Catch-22 in our need for more oil to fly jet airplanes in order to maintain
military dominance that we strive to enforce by using our air supremacy.
far more complex than the strategic board game Risk, which was invented
by a French movie director who tellingly called it La Conquete du Monde -- The
Conquest of the World. Even in the game of Risk, however, the rapid
spreading of forces across the globe is recognized as being a risky gambit
which often results in fighting on too many fronts and consequently losing
because one’s forces become overstretched.
many of the most important ways, the American political system consists of two
primary factions of a single party. This party is a corporate one that uses
the influence of money to dominate our electoral system and control our
decision-making processes. This system is directed by a
Military/Industrial/Congressional Complex that embraces perversely shortsighted
priorities and the supremacy of corporate prerogatives. It also involves
corrupt lobbying, socially irresponsible profiteering, inadequately regulated
opportunism and military aggression.
system essentially manipulates the public into paying for its own victimization
through corporate tax breaks and subsidies, waste, fraud, environmental
degradation, debt, and a lack of oversight and accountability. This system is
susceptible to forces that militate for war, like right-wing think tanks and
war services corporations. War is highly profitable to a narrow set of
interests that push to start wars and keep them going. Wars are unconscionably
costly and quite destructive -- and generally extremely unjust.
in the past 50 years have been promoted by using spurious arguments, demagogic
rhetoric, self-justifying rationalizations, and deceitful propaganda. Consent
for the waging of wars has been insidiously manufactured by the use of
emotional appeals to public fears and insecurities. Politicians use
rationalizations to justify misinformation, lies, corruption and fraud, claiming
that they are just doing what people want. I encourage readers to seek better understandings
of issues related to war by checking out Reflections on War in Part Three
of the Earth Manifesto.
governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke
the same hashish they give out.”
--- Journalist I.F. Stone
aspect of our one-party system is that our democracy is being betrayed by Big
Media. Most television stations, newspapers, radio stations and magazines are
controlled by large corporations. This gives them a biased tendency to support
stimulated consumer spending, aggressiveness in competition, hawkish foreign
policies, and the deceptions and gimmickry of politicians and their corporate
and upper-class beneficiaries.
control of the media by corporate interests has resulted in extensive collaboration
with the powerful interests that control Congress and the White House, the
Pentagon, defense industries, war service corporations and other vested
interests. Big Media has a role to properly inform and educate the masses, a
role which is vitally important for the success of a representative democracy.
But it is failing to fulfill that role. The most flagrant way it has failed us
was in its amplification of pro-war hype in the run-up to the attack on Iraq in March 2003. Hundreds of false statements containing erroneous and disingenuous
information were propagated by President Bush and Dick Cheney and other top
officials in the two years before this invasion, and these deceptions were
amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts.
believe that the people, when properly armed with the facts, will come to the
--- Thomas Jefferson
arm the people with more accurate facts! The late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota believed
that politics should be about far more than power, money and winning at any
cost. He once said, “Politics is about the improvement of people’s
lives. It’s about advancing the cause of peace and justice in our country
and in the world.” This sentiment is a valuable perspective for the American
people to understand and support in order to come to proper conclusions about
what domestic and foreign policies would be best.
honorable Senator Paul Wellstone was one
of the last true liberals. He died in a suspicious airplane crash just before
the culmination of his reelection campaign in 2002. Author and former cop Michael
C. Ruppert’s book, Crossing the Rubicon – The Decline of the American Empire
at the End of the Age of Oil, discusses the details surrounding Wellstone’s
death, for those interested.
are instituted among people in every country in order to facilitate planning,
organization, development, control and national security. One of the primary
purposes of government is to adjudicate between the myriad of competing
interests. Since money is one of the main objects of competition, money itself
has a dramatically corrupting influence in a democracy.
who have the most money have powerful means of subverting the system to their
own special advantage, so a plutocracy develops where wealthy people largely
determine public policies. The general good becomes subservient to the good of
narrowly-focused entrenched interests, and these unreasonably influential
interests obstruct needed reform as times change. Publicly-financed election
campaigns would arguably be a good first step in reducing the influence of Big
Money in politics and in strengthening our institutions against abuses of power
and in improving democratic governance.
is amongst the best forms of government in some ways, and amongst the worst in
others. It is best to the extent that it idealizes human rights and fairness
of opportunity and equal representation. And it is amongst the worst because
of its failure to realize these ideals, and because of its vulnerability to
corruption and perverse priorities that clash with these ideals and with
sensible planning for future generations.
is an oddly absurd concept to give an ignorant person exactly the same weight
in voting as the most enlightened and fair-minded of citizens. Nonetheless, this
is a basic tenet of our democratic system. We consequently defend this
condition because it gives everyone an equal voice in the hopes that this will
collectively provide the best potential for course corrections and ultimate
fairness. Perhaps James Surowiecki is correct, in any case, in his book The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many
Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies,
Societies and Nations. Surowiecki
says that large numbers of people can choose wisely if diversity of opinion and
independence of thinking are allowed and encouraged. He observes that
diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions
are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus and compromise.
Exceptions exist, but this is a thought provoking idea.
as throughout history, democracy suffers severe stresses and setbacks due to
the corrupting influences of Big Money and unethical lobbying. Due to unfair
initiatives undertaken by various groups of self-interested elites, we have an
onslaught of regressive social policies, myopic partisanship, disingenuous
ideologies, inadequately regulated profiteering, invasions of privacy, stimulated
inequities, and aggressive wars. In other words, government is often
manipulated into serving destructive purposes instead of serving constructive
purposes. I am optimistic that a progressive leader like Barack Obama will do
a far better job than the Neoconservatives have done at using government for
the common good.
Executive branch of the federal government made a dangerous power grab during
the years of the Bush/Cheney Administration. They seized upon authoritarian
impulses to advance narrow goals. In this, the government was hijacked by
wrong-headed interests and became a nemesis to its citizens and peoples
worldwide. Our leaders 'sold us down the river’ with their partisan
initiatives, their shrewd facilitating of the concentration of wealth, their
laissez-faire anti-regulation doctrines, their unjust wars, and their pandering
to interests that are opposed to the greater good.
liberals and conservatives seem to myopically ‘fail to see the forest for the
trees’. How can these tendencies be altered? A new political coalition needs
to be created that advances intelligent priorities and keeps the long-term best
interests of young people and future generations in mind. This coalition must
forsake wrong-headed priorities and ill-conceived actions.
believe that the ascendancy of conservatism in recent years is only an
ephemeral trend. The pendulum has swung too far to the right, and must swing
back in more progressive directions. It cannot be otherwise, for eventually
conservatives find themselves so busy plugging the leaks in the dike that holds
back the flood of human progress that they will be swept away in an inevitable
purge of their obstructionism. Thus, authoritarianism and fascism and
oppressive rulers and deniers of evolution leave their mark on history and then
are swept into the dustbin of irrelevance. The more staunch the efforts they
make to oppose change, the more force that builds up to sweep away those who
resist reform and progress. In this view of history, the tide always washes
toward evolutionary adaptation, by fits and starts, with reactionary resistance
being punctuated by revolutionary leaps forward.
is similar to one of the most profound understandings of cosmology and
geology: the concept of ‘punctuated equilibrium’. This tidy perspective
recognizes the general nature of slow incremental change that is punctuated by
sudden bursts of more rapid changes. We see this clearly when we explore the
continuous but almost imperceptible forces of erosion, and when we then
juxtapose these processes against such awe-inspiring events as earthquakes,
tsunamis, calamitous flooding, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and the impacts
of monumental storms.
and animals that are the most successful under existing conditions help a
species to prosper and survive. The long-term survival of each species is
helped by different individuals that are the most adept at coping with changing
conditions. Thus it seems probable that having a variety of types and capabilities
within human societies provides a survival advantage. So it may be a good
thing that there are people with conservative propensities and others with
liberal tendencies. It seems that conservatives are often more adept at
exploiting status quo conditions, and liberals seem to be most adept in dealing
with inevitable change. It takes all kinds!
and dispositional variability of individuals within a species assures a diverse
pool that has an optimum chance of adapting when competitive or environmental
conditions change. It is clear that we live in times that are changing more
rapidly than at almost any point in evolutionary history. This is because of
increasing competition, revolutionary changes in technology, social turmoil,
unprecedented increases in human numbers, the demographics of urbanization, and
the increasingly significant impacts of humanity on the vital ecological
underpinnings of biological existence.
is good, and to optimize our chances of survival as a species we must make the
best of whatever comes our way. We must also think in terms that are more
salubrious in the long run. We must anticipate the consequences of our actions
so that we ensure that propitious outcomes result for the good of future
generations. Sensible, intelligent, farsighted, and fair-minded policies are
required. Simultaneously, we must strive to prevent stupidly shortsighted and
selfishly narrow-minded policies from dominating. We need to throw out all the
rascals whose master plan is to divide, conquer, dominate, and exploit in order
to build a global empire.
believe that we are in great need today of a smart, rational, humorous, and
powerful new voice that cautions us about the risks that our ship of state
faces -- risks of figuratively running aground in increasingly treacherous
waters. Using Mark Twain’s ideas, and the metaphor of close attention to true
soundings, I aspire to provide that voice in the writings of the Earth
Manifesto. These words were first written in January 2008, and by January
2009, Barack Obama has become President and promises to give wings to hopes for
more sane directions forward.
before Sam Clemens became a writer and adopted the pen name Mark Twain, he was
a provincial boy in the ‘slave state’ of Missouri. He had few prospects of
escaping the poverty of his family circumstances and his Victorian-era rural
provincialism. He was enamored with adventure and travel, so at the age of 21
he borrowed money to undertake a two-year apprenticeship “marking twain” as a
pilot on a Mississippi River steamboat. During his second year, Sam’s beloved
younger brother Henry died in a boiler explosion on the steamboat Pennsylvania. The trauma of Henry’s death gave Sam a more cynical outlook on
life. It made him realize how much randomness and luck there is in life, and
it reinforced his doubts about the prevailing Christian doctrine that there is
a cosmically benevolent Providence. The event also stimulated him to think for
himself and make up his own mind about what is true.
Clemens’ keen eye for the absurd in the human condition contributed to his
later success in writing, as did his recognition of the cosmic insecurities
faced by all. He developed a satirical perspective on biblical literalism and
backwater ideas of “biblical inerrancy”. Irony and paradox and humorous
exaggeration became the hallmarks of his written expression. He poked fun at
the pious, and he eventually became a critic of hypocrisy, corruption,
inequality and war-mongering imperialism.
noted that “There
is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Ideas arise when
the need starts becoming obvious. At first, new ideas always meet resistance
from entrenched interests and conservatives and other forces of inertia. We must
overcome, and cooperate with others to achieve better social and environmental
outcomes, even if some ‘sacrifice’ may be required!
are encouraged to check out the ideas at www.EarthManifesto.com for insights
into the proper goals of our lives, and the better means that we could be using
to achieve these ends. In particular, for provocative ideas and an epic
elaboration of valuable understandings, see Comprehensive Global Perspective
– An Illuminating Worldview. Since this manifesto is not one merely of diagnosis,
but also of prescription, see the compendium of good ideas in Part Four,
including “One Dozen Big Initiatives to Positively Transform Our Societies” and
the “Progressive Agenda for a More Sane Humanity”.
for giving these ideas your consideration!
Dr. Tiffany B. Twain