Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 11, No. 8, August 2015
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Paradigm Junction - Our Journey Into Today

Don Chisholm

This article was originally published in
Paradigm Junction, 11 July 2015
as part of
Paradigm Junction: Life 50 Years After Paradigm Change



The era of global tragedy of the commons ends.
The new paradigm begins when
Interdependent Regional Governments
unite to form a chaordic organization called,
The United Regions
Where coordinated expertise in Earth Science, Human-Nature and Economics,
Provide Regional Guidance to Maximize Real Wealth:

Real wealth is a measurement of a robust ecology
and of the general health and happiness of the people!

The following are some of the historic socio-political changes that were stepping stones toward key elements of the current socio-ecological crisis. A LONG TIME AGO:

Step 1: Displacement of feminine balance: The beginning of androcentrism

Riane Eisler, in her book, Chalice & The Blade, makes a historical review of many sources indicating that in early human societies the female had a much larger role than today. Going back to the Stone Age, 30,000 years ago, nude figures of goddesses adorned rocky cave walls. Evidence of female leadership continued throughout the following 20,000 years, through the Neolithic era, where cooperative societies lived in relative peaceful communities. This lasted until about 3000 BCE when Western cultures and religions began to emerge, dethroning the female goddesses. Female equality has never returned although today progress is being made in some societies.

Step 2: Making humans external to nature

Elsabeth Sahtouris, in her 2000 book, Earthdance: Living Systems in Evolution, points to another detrimental detour on the road toward our human dilemma. Sahtouris states that in ancient Greece, philosophers divided into two schools of thought about the world. One was that all of nature, including humans, was alive and a spiritual, self-creative world, much like the Gaia model today, a view similar to that of many aboriginal societies. But the other school argued that "real" world could be known only through pure reason, not through direct experience, as it was God's geometric creation--permanently mechanical. This mechanical/religious worldview superseded the older nature-centric beliefs, and became the foundation of the whole Western worldview and a foundation stone in today’s fatally-flawed paradigm. A principal tenet of this flawed doctrine is to see ourselves as separate from the rest of nature.

Step 3: Removing spirituality from nature

As the human appetite for increased throughput of Earth’s wealth of natural resources grew, this growth paradigm demanded that the natural human spiritual affinity toward nature had to be blunted. The International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture promotes critical inquiry into the relationships among human beings and their diverse cultures, environments and religious beliefs and practices. They recently produced an award winning, Encyclopedia of Religion And Nature. Under the subject: “left biocentrism, they conclude: "In order for industrial capitalism to commodify the Earth, Earth-based spirituality had to be undermined. Left biocentrists believe that addressing this is a crucial part of any engaged green politics in the twenty-first century."


Mentally separated from their earthly roots both emotionally and spiritually, the male- dominated societies of the world were aptly labelled, the dominator societies by Daniel Quinn, in his book Ishmael. The dominators went forth and multiplied, explored, occupied and invented ownership of the land. All of this to improve the well-being of their own specific group(s), always at the expense of other societies and/or at the expense of nature. Writer J.W.Smith, in his book, The World’s Wasted Wealth, states that all wars are resource wars. The dominator characteristic has fuelled many such wars in the past millennia. We are now driven by the growth imperative to seek evermore territory and resources. But the dominator mind ignores stark scientific evidence that human activity is far beyond Earth’s renewable limits. Such limits are rejected by this AbReality (human-created: see endnote) based views.

Rapid Growth Enabler One (a physical reality): Energy

Using energy provided only by the human body, by horses, wind and wood, we could never have enabled our population to grow much more than, perhaps 500 million.


Pandora’s Box of energy-intensive fossil fuels provided an abundant, easy-to-use energy source to satisfy (intoxicate?) the dominators’ unrestrained growth imperative. Rapid exponential growth became the norm in the 20th century and the green revolution helped the human body count zoom to today’s over 7 billion. With such extreme growth came the belief that energy, technology and the invisible hand of economics can solve all of humanity’s problems. But there are problems in energy paradise - Peak-oil and global-warming. Such blunt, limiting realities simply do not fit today’s AbReality based capitalist-driven growth paradigm; limits are ignored, denied, avoided and those who say there are limits may be called heretics by our leaders.

Rapid Growth Enabler Two (a cultural reality): Pronatalist Religions & Cultures

In concert with industry’s need for labour, and with the feminine balance long suppressed, dominator influence pervaded some influential religions and cultures. They created prohibitions against birth control and glorified the family with many children. This is certainly not true of all religions and cultures but applies principally to certain segments of Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Many of these pronatalist forces, where women are less that equal, still present significant obstacles in the pathway toward a sustainable civilization. (Fortunately, a few splinter branches of these religions appear to reject gender imbalance, homophobia and prohibitions on birth control.)

Rapid Growth Enabler Three (an economic reality): Money

Early monetary systems had been commodity-based, whereby a physical commodity such as gold or silver was used to back up the value of issued currency. With exponential growth in human population and in goods and services, no physical commodity was suitable as a value base. It the 1960s, following the Keynesian suggestion, the world standard US$ was disengaged from gold. It became fiat, meaning, a command decree, or let it be. Now a mathematical number, money can be created as debt with no limits, unlike the planetary resources that money can still buy. Trillions of dollars enter the global system each year, bestowing wealth and political power on the elite top few from where the trickle down economy should theoretically provide for all. But there are seriously wicked problems in money paradise... irresolvable within the current paradigm.

Dominator Schools of Thought and the rise of Neoconservativism

The Chicago School of Economics, refers to a think-tank led by Milton Friedman that has shaped the course of world history significantly since the 1950s. This group shifted US economic thinking from the Keynesian laisser-faire approach. Keynes had encouraged free markets with macro regulation by government to assure the public best interest was served. But Friedman recommended libertarian rules, which are basically no rules or regulation on corporations, accompanied by the progressive deregulation and privatization of government services and civil infrastructure. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan championed these concepts in their respective countries - TINA, There Is No Alternative! declared Margaret Thatcher.

Metaphorical Summary of Today’s Paradigm

The prevailing political forces that guide human civilization are now in the hands of the imaginary dominator, a masculine, archetypal character who is greed driven, has no feminine balance, has no spiritual affinity toward Gaia and humanity’s roots in our natural world and is inhibited by from recognizing limits-to-growth on a finite planet. We are on borrowed time, far beyond sustainable limits.


Don Chisholm is a Director of the Gaia Preservation Coalition. He is a retired Engineering Technologist whose career path dealt with dynamic systems, maintenance, design, management and quality assurance auditing, generally related to the aviation industry. The past thirty years have been spent studying human behaviours, energy, and other areas related to the human predicament. For his complete biography and contact information, click here.

The Sustainability Conundrum

Richard Hampton

Originally published by
Millenium Alliance for Humanity and Biosphere, 7 July 2015

The mission of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere is to foster, fuel and inspire a global dialogue on the interconnectedness of activities causing environmental degradation and social inequity and the threat of collapse; and create and implement strategies for shifting human cultures and institutions towards sustainable practices and an equitable and satisfying future.

Illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig via Flickr | | CC BY-ND 2.0

Science is telling us that our world is in trouble. We have too many people consuming too much stuff. There is hope however, as humanity is slowly demonstrating a spontaneous propensity towards developing the behavioral adaptations necessary to reach a sustainable population and a respect for nature that could enable human civilization to persist.

Of course failure to change humanity’s dominant behavior and adapt would result in an irreversible depletion of non-renewable resources and fouling of the biosphere with our waste. Even worse, population would continue to expand and consumption would continue to grow exponentially. The outlook is bleak if the forces of human population and consumption continue unchecked. Extinctions will increase to massive proportions, eliminating many of the creatures with whom we share this planet and by extension humanity itself.

We know that with sufficient, non-coercive incentives (e.g., education of women, contraception) that birthrates and thus population can be reduced; however, an unfortunate side-effect of this is that affluence rises, which entails more consumption. This paper considers the “too many people, too much consumption” conundrum.

Impacts, such as those mentioned above, have been represented by the formula:


where P = Population, A = Affluence or per-capita consumption and T = Technology as applied to the production of goods consumed [1].

If humanity is to mitigate the threatening impacts of civilization on the Earth, we must deal with the PAT side of the equation.

Consider first that technology is a subset of affluence in that technologies are developed in response to demand or opportunity. Technology can be employed to either increase or reduce both population and/or per-capita consumption and is therefore of secondary importance in the equation. So technology will not be discussed further in this context.

However, if we are to succeed in reducing our impacts and avert some of the worst consequences of those impacts, it is imperative we address both population and affluence with its attendant over-consumption, by reducing both to a sustainable level within a time frame that avoids catastrophe.

Human population level is a consequence of both biological drives and cultural memes. Birth rate, survival to reproductive age and longevity are the determinant factors for population growth, shrinkage or stability. Throughout much of human history birth rate, as expressed by the number of successful pregnancies per female, was largely unconstrained by cultural forces. To state this in simpler terms, each woman may have had seven children on average but only two would survive childhood to reach reproductive age.  Thus the apparently high birthrate resulted in replacement only, without population growth. For much of human history population growth was minimal. With the development of better technologies, improved childhood survival and longevity transformed stability into exponential population growth, especially over the last two centuries of the industrial revolution. High birthrates coupled with high survival rates have become prime drivers of population growth, which have brought us to our current population of over seven billion people.

Fortunately there is hope for humanity to bring birthrates under control. As documented by Alan Weisman [2] and Hans Rosling [3], the basics for reducing birthrates are well understood and can be applied to any society that is willing: education for women, available and affordable (free or subsidized) birth control and safe abortions. Given those means, women appear to limit fertility on their own; they do not want to be baby-making machines. Generally, reproduction is reduced to replacement levels or less. This proposition is well supported by actual birthrates currently experienced in much of the world including Europe, North and South America, China and India. One remarkable example, reported by Weisman, is that of Iran which reduced its fertility rate from a world-leading nine births per woman to less than two in a period of just twenty years, all done without coercion.

What we are seeing appears to be the fulfillment of Demographic Transition Theory [4] developed in 1929 by demographer Warren Thompson (1887 – 1973). The theory proposes a natural balancing of birth and death rates as societies transition from pre-industrial to post-industrial conditions. First, technical and cultural changes contribute to a declining death rate with rapid population growth, which is followed by declining birth rates to a point of balance between the two.

There is a fundamental reason why women can and will control their fertility: it is in their own self-interest. The benefits are personal, immediate and easily understood. According to Rosling, this phenomena is happening quite spontaneously in most of the world today. Exceptions exist in those social contexts where the basics of education and the means to control fertility are withheld for political, religious or cultural reasons, usually within male dominated societies.

Rosling, a statistician, projects that world population will stabilize spontaneously at replacement level by the end of this century. While stabilization is a promising trend, the suspected leveling at eleven billion may not be enough, soon enough. However there is one strong example that may provide an additional impetus toward actual population reduction. With a fertility rate of just over one child per woman, Japan has entered a phase of population decline. If the whole world emulated Japan’s current trend, the world’s population would be reduced to about one half within a century.

What has led Japan to such a low birth rate? Two factors seem to be at work:  the high cost of raising a child coupled with a desire for greater affluence. Indeed, one of the key benefits that women realize from low fertility is increased affluence. And there’s the conundrum. One of the key drivers of population control, the opportunity to increase affluence, exacerbates the greater problem of the impact of humanity on the biosphere.

So, if we understand and achieve the basics of population control, we are confronted with the confounding issue of controlling affluence. Population goes down but affluence goes up.

Affluence, that ubiquitous and uniquely modern human cultural trait of wanting more—more possessions, more property, more power, more wealth—more of everything that feeds the ego’s unquenchable desire to grow stronger. It is the driving force of modern economics, industrial action, social interaction, politics and the excesses of marketing to convince us that more is better. It powers the growth paradigm, which is pervasive throughout the “civilized” world. Affluence is the other prime factor in the impact of humanity on this planet, our one and only home.

The problem with affluence is that it leads to over-consumption. It is the consumption of nature’s bounty in the form of non-renewable resources and the over-consumption of renewable resources, which results in the destruction of biodiversity and the loss of ecosystem services on which our survival depends. Humans have become a species that is destroying its very life-support system in its voracious quest for self-indulgence which in truth serves no logical purpose. Our genius for exploiting the natural world to feed our short term need to gratify unnecessary purposes is truly maladaptive and if left unchecked will surely become a fatal flaw.

But it wasn’t always this way. In primitive hunter-gatherer societies, humans showed little inclination towards self-indulgence with material possessions and personal importance. This is borne out by several anthropological studies that looked at human behavior prior to about 4000 BCE as well as studies of the few remaining contemporary hunter gatherers. This view is well summarized by Steve Taylor [5].

Taylor proposes that as a general condition prehistoric humans, even after the first agricultural societies formed, were essentially egalitarian with assets held in common and shared equally within the community. It was only after around 4000 BCE that the concepts of private wealth and power emerged. The ego appeared as the dominant and controlling factor in personal lives, on up to the concepts and structures of governance, economies, cultures and even religions. It was the beginning of inequality.

According to Taylor, ideas such as collective rights and democratic principles began to emerge as far back as the ancient Greeks. These ideas have gained strength and taken hold in more recent times with the arrival of democratic institutions and governments to the point where today a majority of states have democratically elected governments. In parallel, there has been a growth in constituted rights and freedoms which have transformed much of the world’s communities in the direction of mutual caring and collective responsibility. One of the extensions of this transition includes the growing environmental movements in which some humans are extending the concepts of empathy towards the whole of our natural environment, such as The Rights of Nature adopted by Ecuador. All this may suggest that humanity is moving toward displacing our dominant ego with empathy for others and the world we share. Could this become the established order of human existence? There is much evidence that such a spontaneous evolutionary process is underway.

So, although humanity may be in the process of transitioning from a growing population with an insatiable lust for consumption, towards a declining population holding an empathetic worldview favoring sustainability, there is an urgent need to speed up the process. The required shift in human behavior—the root cause of our problems—must be understood and accepted on a large scale before acceleration will occur on both the population and consumption fronts. Reducing fertility would appear to be feasible, primarily because it is in the immediate personal self-interest of women. We are then faced with the task of framing and selling the idea of reduced consumption as also being in the immediate self-interest of individuals. The good news is that the transition may already be underway. The challenge is to determine how we make the behavioral changes sufficient in scope and soon enough in time to save civilization from collapse.

Are we up to the challenge? For humanity’s sake let’s hope we are.


1 Ehrlich, Paul R.; Holdren, John P.; Barry Commoner; “A Bulletin Dialogue: on “The Closing Circle” – Response”. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May 1972, pp. 17–56.

2 Alan Weisman; Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?, Back Bay Books, 6 May 2014.

3 Hans Rosling; Don't Panic: The world might not be as bad as you might believe!, Gapminder, 7 November 2013.

4 Demographic Transition Theory, Wikipedia, 15 May 2015.

5 Steve Taylor; The Fall: The Insanity of the Ego in Human History and the Dawning of a New Era, O Books, 13 October 2005.


With a background in Chemical Engineering and interest in the sustainability of human civilization, Richard Hampton serves as a director for the Qualicum Institute. Learn more about the Qualicum Institute through their MAHB Node: The Qualicum Institute.

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