Earth is not a Garden

Yesterday, I came across an article that touched upon technology efforts in the name of conservation: Algorithmic Wilderness: Robo-bees and drone-seeded forests: can technology mend our broken relationship with the natural world?

It was not so much the idea to develop drones doing the work of bees that puzzled me. Or the idea to plant a billion trees a year using unmanned aerial vehicles – the goals may be noble, but the approach worries me. Saving the world with technology? Nonetheless, this was not the painful part of the essay. The following sentence was more concerning:

Wilderness no longer exists. Humans have … irrevocably altered the conditions of life for almost every species on the planet.”

That realization hurt.

It was obvious to me that national parks are just some small protected islands that give us a glimpse what nature can look like. Most parks are too small to maintain a healthy ecosystem without human interference, and the human impact cannot be denied. However, some sparsely populated places like Alaska, Siberia, and Mongolia I thought would still be largely untouched by human activity. Apparently not so. I can see how climate change is affecting regions globally and our continued and renewed expansion into formerly protected areas, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, certainly does not help the cause. It actually supports the notion of modern conservationist that tell us to give up the romantic idea of true wilderness, untouched by humans.

I must have lived under a rock. I had not heard of Green Modernists, or New Conservationists, Post-environmentalists or Eco-pragmatists until yesterday. These schools argue that we should embrace our planetary lordship and consider Earth as a giant garden. A garden, where we decide what grows, what gets harvested, and what gets eradicated. We are the gardeners calling the shots…

There is a flaw in this thinking: A garden is small enough in scale that we can control most parameters. We can even trick the weather, to a degree, using irrigation, green houses, artificial lights etc. When it comes to our planet however, that analogy fails. We cannot control nor trick the weather, and I am very doubtful that drones are suitable gardening tools to solve global problems. They also will not  change the tide of our current thinking that we can fix everything with smarter, better, and more efficient technology.

We simply need to become better stewards of the land. So much for today.

Find more details here:

Earth is not a garden

Some of the world’s most powerful conservationists are giving up on wilderness. They are making a big mistake.



Mixed bag

Truth or Consequences


“A lie can travel half way around the world
while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

Mark Twain

The average English speaker has an active vocabulary of around 10,000 to 20,000 words. Maybe 30,000 if you are an eloquent speaker or writer.

I had to add some new words to my vocabulary in the last couple of days: Fake news, post-truth, and alternative facts, which I had dismissed before as unbelievable internet creations. No more. Now our government is engaging in alternative facts?

What happened?

“At one time we had truth and lies. Now we have truth, lies, and statements that may not be true but we consider too benign to call false. Euphemisms abound. We’re “economical with the truth,” we “sweeten it,” or tell “the truth improved.” The term deceive gives way to spin.  At worst we admit to “misspeaking,” or “exercising poor judgment.”  Nor do we want to accuse others of lying.  We say they’re in denial.  A liar is “ethically challenged,” someone for whom “the truth is temporarily unavailable.”

This is post-truth. In the post-truth era, borders blur between truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty, fiction and nonfiction.

When enough of us peddle fantasy as fact, society loses its grounding in reality.  Society would crumble altogether if we assumed others were as likely to dissemble as tell the truth. We are perilously close to that point.”

Ralph Keyes wrote that 13 years ago in his book “The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life”.

Doesn’t his statement describe precisely the current state of our society? Aren’t we expecting from our politicians to make false promises, and to read made-up stories in the news. How can we trust anybody anymore?

When it comes to truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty, guilt and non-guilt, the world must be binary. There cannot be a blurring of borders.

Let’s go back and call somebody who bends the truth a liar and somebody who sticks to the truth an honest person.

Otherwise we are deteriorating int a society, where we don’t care anymore about the truth. This has happened before with horrendous consequences.



Who do you think we are?


“Our mastery over the forces of nature has led to a rapid growth of population, and a vast accumulation of wealth; but these have brought with them such an amount of poverty and crime, and have fostered the growth of so much sordid feeling and so many fierce passions, that it may well be questioned, whether the mental and moral status of our population has not on the average been lowered, and whether the evil has not overbalanced the good.”

Alfred Russel Wallace

That was more than 150 years ago. Alfred Russel Wallace was born 194 years ago and became a leading scientist, who independently proposed a theory of natural selection, which prompted Charles Darwin to publish his own theory.

I wonder what instilled his negative view on the evolution of human society. It is also remarkable to read his historic assessment of our proliferation and its effect on our ethics. What would he think if he were around today? Did his voice go unheard?

On another note, it is also Elvis Presley’s birthday today.


Democracy in America

What does a Frenchman know about democracy in America, you ask?

Well, read this abstract from 1835:

“If society is tranquil, it is not because it is conscious of its strength and its well-being, but because it fears its weakness and its infirmities; a single effort may cost it its life. Everybody feels the evil, but no one has courage or energy enough to seek the cure. The desires, the repinings, the sorrows, and the joys of the present time lead to no visible or permanent result, like the passions of old men, which terminate in impotence.”


Alexis Charles Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (1805 – 1859) was a French political thinker and historian best known for his work “Democracy in America”.

Painting of Alexis de Tocqueville by Théodore Chassériau

Inside Out, Life

A serious case…

 of instant gratification.

Am I part of a covert marshmallow experiment?

Today I walked into our grocery store. I don’t know where you live, but where I came from shopping has become an overwhelming task: Which store do I choose today, who has the best deals and my favorite products? Off course I always expected to find well stocked shelves with endless choices.

Not so here. We have one grocery store in town. Goods come in once a week, which have already been on the ship for a whole week, when the boat arrives, so nothing is “really” fresh. As quickly as the shelves are restocked, the goods disappear.

Then I tried to open a checking account in our one and only local branch. “Let me setup an appointment for you. Oh yes, we have an opening in 2 days from now. Would that work for you?”. Really? Well, it has to work for me, because I don’t have a choice.

Finally, my bicycle broke down and I needed a new part. That would be a 2 week break from bicycling. Fedex does not deliver to our town, so forget about overnight. Until I can pickup the replacement part from our local post office that would be a while.

Don’t get me wrong, I am here by choice and I am happy with it, being able to have something to eat every day and a roof over my head. Not to mention the amazing, ever changing natural beauty around me.

It just made me think, how spoiled I was by living in a society that fosters instant gratification. Anything I want, anytime. How did we get there? Were our ancestors constantly hungry? Always on the hunt for the next bite? No time to think about consequences in the future? Now that we have plenty to eat, we extend our expectations. Movies on demand have replaced video stores. Online news killed the newspapers. Cubicles and computers… And all that for what? So we can buy and have things that we want. Things that are supposed to make us happy…

I happily accept my new life style. I will be patient. I am not going to live in a cave, but I can wait for the next ship that may or may not bring bread and milk. I can wait for that bank appointment…

Paul Roberts has written a brilliant book about this topic: The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification. And on the subject of choices I very much like the following TED talk: The paradox of choice.

Inside Out

Our Responsibility

“The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children. Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

Today, I feel, our society is not doing that great. It seems to me that we are not taking care of our planet as we should. We let politicians and corporations pursue short-term goals, that undeniably hurt our planet in the long run. Personal gain and individual wealth are more important than collective well-being and true happiness. Many worship and idolize the loud lifestyle of celebrities. The voices of moderation get lost in the daily noise of what we call news. Maybe I am wrong.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a priest and a vocal opponent of the Nazi dictatorship. He was arrested, imprisoned for one and a half years, tried, and executed just weeks before Allied forces liberated the concentration camp, where he was held captive.

70 years ago today, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was killed by hanging, stripped of all clothes, but not his faith and spirit.

Today we should remember this noble man and our responsibility for each other.

Inside Out

A poem

The wintergreen, the juniper, the cornflower and the chicory
The elm, the ash and the linden tree, the dark and deep, enchanted sea
The trembling moon and the stars unfurled
Well there she goes, my beautiful world

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

I don’t know what Nick had in mind with this song, but it resonates with me. Reading the 6th Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert reminded me how little diversity we have at our longitude, despite the apparent wilderness. Then again, how many guests from the city are amazed to see a moose or the tracks of an elk herd or a golden eagle circling in the sky. It’s a precious world we live in, a narrow range of altitude and temperatures that allows us to live comfortably. We live in the midst of a mass extinction, species are disappearing for good every day, some before mankind even got a chance to see them, some we loose by our thirst for land and sea, by our need for resources and our lack of compassion and responsibility. Mass extinctions have happened before, naturally, without us. To put it into perspective: Until 300 years ago, the concept of mass extinction was unknown. Nobody knew that individual species, sometimes millions of individuals would disappear from earth because they could not adapt to changes in their habitat. Nobody knew that 30-80% of all species have disappeared several times in the existence of this planet. Until today, I believe, the general public is not aware of these “catastrophic” events.

If nature can cause mass extinction, why would we care about conservation and diversity? Why do we have national parks and wilderness areas? Why should we care about clean air and water?

Some of us certainly enjoy seeing wildlife in its natural habitat, some of us never get the chance to see a wolverine in the wild, or witness the amazing beauty of a corral reef… Some of us may not even care.

Which poses the question: What do we do as individuals and as a society with this world? Is it ok to simply care about the well-being of our generation? Or should we attempt to conserve what we have for future generations? Simple questions with profound answers. What do you think?

Maybe Nick was in a somber mood, when he wrote his song, or he was a realist, a visionary, anticipating the power of nature and mankind.