Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 11, No. 1, January 2015
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Sustainable Development as a "New Epiphany"

Camille Flammarion, L'atmosphère, 1888
The Risk of Birth (Madeleine L'Engle, 1973)

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor & truth were trampled to scorn—
Yet here did the Savior make His home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn—
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.


Editorial: Sustainable Development as a "New Epiphany"
The Story of Silent Spring, by Natural Resources Defense Council
Sharing As Our Common Cause, by Share The World's Resources
A Medical Missionary’s Environmental Epiphany, by Herman Daly
Hedonism, Survivalism, and the Burden of Knowledge, by James Magnus-Johnston
The Pursuit of Universality, by Alvin Leong
Paradigm Junction Project - The New Story, by Don Chisholm
What is Special about "A Prosperous Way Down", by Thomas Abel
The Millennium Project: Selecting Futures Research Methodologies, by Louis van der Merwe
Geoengineering Our Climate is Not a ‘Quick Fix’, by Piers Forster
Rethinking Sustainable Development: Considering How Different Worldviews Envision “Development” and “Quality of Life”, by Annick Hedlund-de Witt


Advances in Sustainable Development (news, pubs, tools, data)
Directory of Sustainable Development Resources (1000+ links)
Strategies for Solidarity and Sustainability (mitigation/adaptation)
Best Practices for Solidarity and Sustainability (business/governance)
Fostering Gender Balance in Society (peace, food, health, energy)
Fostering Gender Balance in Religion (religious traditions, spirituality)

EDITORIAL: Sustainable Development as a "New Epiphany"

According to the dictionary, an epiphany is "a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience." The Anthropocene is "a proposed term for the present geological epoch (from the time of the Industrial Revolution onwards), during which humanity has begun to have a significant impact on the environment." Sustainable development, the process of meeting human needs while preserving the human habitat for future generations, is the "new epiphany" of the Anthropocene. It is an epiphany in the making, and one that pertains to practically all dimensions of human civilization. The recognition that there are ecological limits to production and consumption is bringing about new insights about human relations, and it is not only a matter of doing more with less. Sustainability requires solidarity, improved human relations between men and women in each and every family, between nations, between cultures, between religions, and between humans and the human habitat.

Could this be the year when this "new epiphany" resonates in the hearts and minds of all men and women of good will? Based on the Rio+20 Conference, the United Nations are in the process of formulating a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the 2015-2030 time window, hopefully to be approved by all the members nations at a summit conference to be held in New York from 25 to 27 September 2015. A Climate Change Conference is planned to be held in Paris, France, from 30 November to 11 December 2015, to attempt a binding global agreement on limiting fossil fuel emissions. Whether any such agreement can be worked out even though it is "bad for business" remains to be seen. Pope Francis is reportedly working on an encyclical on human ecology, and it is anticipated that it will be published this year. In the ultimate analysis, sustainable development is a moral issue.

A viable human ecology requires recognition that humans are part of nature and a radical switch from dominating nature to taking care of nature. It requires integration in both the human development and resource management dimensions. The necessary and sufficient condition for such integration is integral human development. Economic policies and technological breakthroughs can be helpful, but are neither necessary nor sufficient to carry the sustainable development process forward. The transition from the current ecological mess to a sustainable society will be attained if, and only if, a critical mass of humans learn to use natural resources responsibly and act accordingly. In this regard, it is crucial to keep in mind that gender balance in roles of headship -- in the family and all other institutions -- is a crucial requirement for sustainable development. "Human development, if not engendered, is endangered" (HDR 1995).

There is much anticipation, and justifiably so, about the forthcoming encyclical to be published by Pope Francis. Indeed, he is a popular and beloved religious leader who is renewing the Catholic Church in many significant ways. But behavior modification in response to moral exhortation is not sustainable unless anchored in exemplary actions. As long as the 1.2 billion strong Roman church continues to exclude women from the priesthood and the episcopacy, thereby excluding them from authentic roles of authority, the encyclical will have minimal impact. In the nuclear family, as well as in the family of nations and the entire community of creation, it is impossible to reconcile human ecology with the patriarchal culture of male headship. Every conceivable theological rationalization is being proposed to perpetuate ecclesiastical patriarchy. For many it is still a visceral issue, and Pope Francis cannot walk on water. But theology must face reality, and the signs of the times are clear: patriarchy is a human artifact that is not intrinsic to the Christian faith (for further reflection on this, click here). The time for patriarchy to trump theology is passing away. As in Madeleine L'Engle The Risk of Birth, time is running out and the sun is burning late.


The Story of Silent Spring

Natural Resources Defense Council

This article was originally published in
Natural Resources Defense Council, 5 December 2013

How a courageous woman took on the chemical industry and
raised important questions about humankind's impact on nature.

Although their role will probably always be less celebrated than wars, marches, riots or stormy political campaigns, it is books that have at times most powerfully influenced social change in American life. Thomas Paine's Common Sense galvanized radical sentiment in the early days of the American revolution; Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe roused Northern antipathy to slavery in the decade leading up to the Civil War; and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, which in 1962 exposed the hazards of the pesticide DDT, eloquently questioned humanity's faith in technological progress and helped set the stage for the environmental movement.

Carson, a renowned nature author and a former marine biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was uniquely equipped to create so startling and inflammatory a book. A native of rural Pennsylvania, she had grown up with an enthusiasm for nature matched only by her love of writing and poetry. The educational brochures she wrote for the Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as her published books and magazine articles, were characterized by meticulous research and a poetic evocation of her subject.

"Things Go Out of Kilter"

Carson was happiest writing about the strength and resilience of natural systems. Her books Under the Sea Wind, The Sea Around Us (which stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 86 weeks), and The Edge of The Sea were hymns to the inter-connectedness of nature and all living things. Although she rarely used the term, Carson held an ecological view of nature, describing in precise yet poetic language the complex web of life that linked mollusks to sea-birds to the fish swimming in the ocean's deepest and most inaccessible reaches.

DDT, the most powerful pesticide the world had ever known, exposed nature's vulnerability. Unlike most pesticides, whose effectiveness is limited to destroying one or two types of insects, DDT was capable of killing hundreds of different kinds at once. Developed in 1939, it first distinguished itself during World War II, clearing South Pacific islands of malaria-causing insects for U.S. troops, while in Europe being used as an effective de-lousing powder. Its inventor was awarded the Nobel Prize.

When DDT became available for civilian use in 1945, there were only a few people who expressed second thoughts about this new miracle compound. One was nature writer Edwin Way Teale, who warned, "A spray as indiscriminate as DDT can upset the economy of nature as much as a revolution upsets social economy. Ninety percent of all insects are good, and if they are killed, things go out of kilter right away." Another was Rachel Carson, who wrote to the Reader's Digest to propose an article about a series of tests on DDT being conducted not far from where she lived in Maryland. The magazine rejected the idea.

Silent Spring

Thirteen years later, in 1958, Carson's interest in writing about the dangers of DDT was rekindled when she received a letter from a friend in Massachusetts bemoaning the large bird kills which had occured on Cape Cod as the result of DDT sprayings. The use of DDT had proliferated greatly since 1945 and Carson again tried, unsuccessfully, to interest a magazine in assigning her the story of its less desirable effects. By 1958 Carson was a best-selling author, and the fact that she could not obtain a magazine assignment to write about DDT is indicative of how heretical and controversial her views on the subject must have seemed. Having already amassed a large quantity of research on the subject, however, Carson decided to go ahead and tackle the DDT issue in a book.

Silent Spring took Carson four years to complete. It meticulously described how DDT entered the food chain and accumulated in the fatty tissues of animals, including human beings, and caused cancer and genetic damage. A single application on a crop, she wrote, killed insects for weeks and months, and not only the targeted insects but countless more, and remained toxic in the environment even after it was diluted by rainwater. Carson concluded that DDT and other pesticides had irrevocably harmed birds and animals and had contaminated the entire world food supply. The book's most haunting and famous chapter, "A Fable for Tomorrow," depicted a nameless American town where all life -- from fish to birds to apple blossoms to human children -- had been "silenced" by the insidious effects of DDT.

First serialized in The New Yorker in June 1962, the book alarmed readers across America and, not surprisingly, brought a howl of indignation from the chemical industry. "If man were to faithfully follow the teachings of Miss Carson," complained an executive of the American Cyanamid Company, "we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth." Monsanto published and distributed 5,000 copies of a brochure parodying Silent Spring entitled "The Desolate Year," relating the devastation and inconvenience of a world where famine, disease, and insects ran amuck because chemical pesticides had been banned. Some of the attacks were more personal, questioning Carson's integrity and even her sanity.


Her careful preparation, however, had paid off. Anticipating the reaction of the chemical industry, she had compiled Silent Spring as one would a lawyer's brief, with no fewer than 55 pages of notes and a list of experts who had read and approved the manuscript. Many eminent scientists rose to her defense, and when President John F. Kennedy ordered the President's Science Advisory Committee to examine the issues the book raised, its report thoroughly vindicated both Silent Spring and its author. As a result, DDT came under much closer government supervision and was eventually banned. The public debate moved quickly from whether pesticides were dangerous to which pesticides were dangerous, and the burden of proof shifted from the opponents of unrestrained pesticide use to the chemicals' manufacturers.

The most important legacy of Silent Spring, though, was a new public awareness that nature was vulnerable to human intervention. Rachel Carson had made a radical proposal: that, at times, technological progress is so fundamentally at odds with natural processes that it must be curtailed. Conservation had never raised much broad public interest, for few people really worried about the disappearance of wilderness. But the threats Carson had outlined -- the contamination of the food chain, cancer, genetic damage, the deaths of entire species -- were too frightening to ignore. For the first time, the need to regulate industry in order to protect the environment became widely accepted, and environmentalism was born.

Carson was well aware of the larger implications of her work. Appearing on a CBS documentary about Silent Spring shortly before her death from breast cancer in 1964, she remarked, "Man's attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself?[We are] challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves."

One of the landmark books of the 20th century, Silent Spring's message resonates loudly today, even several decades after its publication. And equally inspiring is the example of Rachel Carson herself. Against overwhelming difficulties and adversity, but motivated by her unabashed love of nature, she rose like a gladiator in its defense.

Learn more about toxics and other threats to our health

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is the USA's most effective environmental action group, combining the grassroots power of 1.4 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of more than 350 lawyers, scientists and other professionals.

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As morning dew to summer flowers."

~ Mechthild von Magdeburg


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