1) Noam Chomsky, best known for his political analyses, takes on the environment in Human Intelligence and the Environment.
And what he (biologist Ernst Mayr) basically argued is that intelligence is a kind of lethal mutation. And he had a good argument. He pointed out that if you take a look at biological success, which is essentially measured by how many of us are there, the organisms that do quite well are those that mutate very quickly, like bacteria, or those that are stuck in a fixed ecological niche, like beetles. They do fine. And they may survive the environmental crisis. But as you go up the scale of what we call intelligence, they are less and less successful. By the time you get to mammals, there are very few of them as compared with, say, insects. By the time you get to humans, the origin of humans may be 100,000 years ago, there is a very small group. We are kind of misled now because there are a lot of humans around, but that’s a matter of a few thousand years, which is meaningless from an evolutionary point of view. His argument was, you’re just not going to find intelligent life elsewhere, and you probably won’t find it here for very long either because it’s just a lethal mutation. He also added, a little bit ominously, that the average life span of a species, of the billions that have existed, is about 100,000 years, which is roughly the length of time that modern humans have existed.
With the environmental crisis, we’re now in a situation where we can decide whether Mayr was right or not. If nothing significant is done about it, and pretty quickly, then he will have been correct: human intelligence is indeed a lethal mutation. Maybe some humans will survive, but it will be scattered and nothing like a decent existence, and we’ll take a lot of the rest of the living world along with us. So is anything going to be done about it? The prospects are not very auspicious.
2) In an interesting pair of developments in South America, Brazil is moving to reduce the protection given to the rainforest while (see following article) Ecuador is proposing a novel arrangement designed to maintain its rainforest.
In a move described as "disastrous" by conservationists, the nation's congress backed a bill relaxing laws on the deforestation of hilltops and the amount of vegetation farmers must preserve. The law also offers partial amnesties for fines levied against landowners who have illegally destroyed tracts of rainforest. The legislation, which must still be passed by the Brazillian Senate and approved by President Dilma Rousseff, aims to help owners of smaller farms and ranches compete with under-regulated rivals in countries such as the USA and Argentina.
3) Jonathan Hari reports on an interesting offer from Ecuador in A Turning Point We Miss at our Peril.
We have been putting short-term profits for a few ahead of the long-term needs of our species. Every rainforest on Earth is being reduced to the money that can be stripped from it: yesterday, Brazil's Chamber of Deputies voted to slash the amount of the Amazon that must be preserved by landowners. Except this time, for the first time, the people of Ecuador have offered us an alternative – a way to break this pattern. Alberto Acosta, the former energy minister who drew up the plan, calls it a punto de ruptura – a turning point, one that "questions the logic of extractive development" that drilled us into this species-swallowing hole. Here's the offer. The oil beneath the rainforest is worth about $7bn. Everybody knows that a stable climate, biodiversity and functioning lungs are worth far more than that. But until now, nobody has been willing to pay. Ecuador's democratic government says that, if the rest of the world offers just half of what the oil is worth – $3.5bn – they will keep the rainforest standing and alive and working for us all. . . . .They first made this offer in 2006. So how has the world responded? Chile has offered $100,000. Spain has offered $1.4m. Germany initially offered $50m, then pulled out. Now President Correa is warning that they can't wait forever in a country where 13 per cent are close to starving. If they don't have $100m in the pot by the end of this year, he says, they will have no choice but to pursue Plan B – the digging and destruction of the rainforest.
4) Finally, the lengthy (7000 word) essay A Brief History of the Corporation: 1600-2100 argues that the trajectory of globalization is leading toward the end of the corporation and into an era of Coesian growth which "is fundamentally not measured in aggregate terms at all. It is measured in individual terms"