"Renaissance Thinking About the Issues of Our Day"
[Thom]: Leonardo DiCaprio has a new movie out, the 11th Hour. I remember when Bill O'Reilly was relentlessly flogging "The Passion of the Christ" on his TV show for the better part of half a year and it later turned out that he was a major investor in it and made a pile of money on that movie. I am not an investor in the 11th Hour and don't make a penny off it. In fact, quite to the contrary; I've been doing a lot of travelling and what not on my own nickel. And the same is true of Kenny Ausubel, our next guest with Bioneers. In fact, really this is Leo's effort and I have a feeling it's a labor of love as much as anything else, and we're talking about it not because we have hopes of great financial returns like Bill O'Reilly was, but rather because we have hopes that we can save this world before it goes down in flames.
Kenny, welcome to the program.
[Ausubel]: Hey Thom, how are you?
[Thom]: I'm just great. Kenny Ausubel is the co-founder, along with his wife Nina, of Bioneers. bioneers.org is the web site. Bioneers is an extraordinary conference that happens every fall in San Rafael, is it, Kenny?
[Ausubel]: Yes, San Rafael, just north of San Francisco, Oct. 19 to the 21st.
[Thom]: ... and gets broadcast by satellite to secondary sites all over the world, literally, and I've spoken there at, what, two out of the last three? Two or three times, I forget how many, but it's just an extraordinary conference. And you're one of the major players, one of the major stars in this movie. You set it up, and you wrap it up.
And I wanted to get you on the line and just get your thinking, particularly since at Bioneers, which is where the movie started, the movie began, I guess this is where the idea for the movie began, was at Bioneers, that you guys have in your conference the people who are doing some of the very best jobs of identifying the problems, and some of the very best jobs of solving the problems. So let’s start out with identifying the problems. This goes way beyond global warming.
[Ausubel]: Well, sure. I mean, the litany is well known to many of us, but you know the crash of biological diversity, the very web of life, on which our own life depends. You know, the great micro-biologist Lynn Margulis has said that she studies microbes and bacteria, and she says that perhaps the real purpose of human life on Earth is that we're such great hosts for the bacteria, you know, that they were here long before us, they'll be here long after us. You know we face massive fresh water shortages, the crash of oceans and marine life, and, I mean, the list goes on and on and people are too familiar with the litany, so...
[Thom]: Yeah, in the movie, well a lot of people aren't, actually, and I think it's worth revisiting. One of the points made in the movie was that 90% of the cells in our bodies are not human cells. They are things that we are hosting?
[Ausubel]: Yeah, that's exactly right, and one day, I believe, Lynn Margulis, the microbiologist will probably win a Nobel Prize for her work. But where she has the theory of endosymbiosis, and basically, her proposition is that billions of years ago, there were these warring tribes of two kinds of bacteria and neither was able to exterminate the other one; so they surrendered to the urge to merge, and learned instead to cooperate, and that's where multi-cellular life came about, as we know it, which of course led up, eventually, to human beings who are fantastically complex organisms that harbor all the life of the planet going back to the origins.
[Thom]: Right, and we are full of fungi and bacteria and viruses, and all kinds of, you know, hundreds of millions of other organisms, probably the vast majority of which we haven’t even begun to identify. I mean, I saw a statistic the other day that there are over four hundred and fifty known bacteria in the gut, of which fewer than a hundred are even named so far.
[Ausubel]: We know so little, Thom, about the tree of life, the web of life. We are clueless, to be honest, so we have a lot to discover. But what we do know is that after four billion years of R&D, life works and there are no recalls in nature. If it doesn’t work, it's gone, you know...
[Thom]: Well, which brings us directly to the “E-word,” which is used in this movie, The Eleventh Hour, Leonard DeCaprio’s new movie, and that is the extinction of human life on Earth. This is, I think I once this movie picks up where Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth leaves off. The extinction of human life on Earth?
[Ausubel]: Well, it is entirely possible. This is what is known as the sixth great era of extinctions, and there were five previously, and about 99.9% of the species that lived before us are gone. This is not uncommon. What is different in the sixth great extinction crisis is that for the first time it is actually caused by human beings, and that's a very different proposition, and the truth is that the Earth will survive just fine, it is just not on a human time frame. It would take about ... a 100 million years to re-institute the scale of diversity that we know in the world today. So, it will happen, it just won’t be on our time frame. And you know, human beings are incredibly adaptable. So my dear friend and teacher, the late John Mohawk has said, "You know, people will survive, one way or another, it is a question of what kind of world we are going to survive in." It could be, you know even less 'Road Warrior'.
[Thom]: Right, and the kind of society we are going to have as well. One of the fascinating things that I learned when I was doing the research for Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, a book I wrote on these topics back about a decade ago, was in reading Peter Farb’s brilliant ethnography of the first contact with Native American societies. And he chronicles dozens of individual societies across the United States. And that over and over and over again, what he and others since then have found is that many of the most egalitarian, peaceful and ecologically appropriate societies on Earth got that way because they had experienced crashes; they had experienced the absolute destruction of their own environments at their own hands.
[Ausubel]: It doesn’t really solve the problem if you slow down to fifty-five. We need to change directions; and we need to do it immediately. Some people give us five years, some people give us ten, we don’t know. You know, in this next five years, I think, we are going to see all kinds of serial collapse of one sort or another. And, you know, the point is, we know we need to change, why wait? We need to stop and turn around now.
[Thom]: So, in the two minutes or so that we have left here, what are the changes that need to be taken? This is more than just replacing the light bulbs in your house.
[Ausubel]: Well, I think part of what I appreciate so much about the film is that they really don’t pull punches. They recognize that government policy is pivotal. You know, you look at most of the great fortunes in the world, and they were made directly because of government policies and subsidies, and all of those kinds of things. So why spend thirty billion dollars a year on the oil, gas and nuclear industries, which are mature industries? If they can’t make it without corporate welfare at this point, then let them fold, you know? But we should be subsidizing the transition to renewables immediately, on a very large scale. And we need to create green collar justice. I mean, poverty is one of the main causes of environmental destruction in the world today, a world where half the people live on two dollars a day or less. So, we need to create a huge job creation engine that's going to also bring about justice, you know, and reduce, I mean, the only Gulf War we should be focused on is to end the gulf between rich and poor.
So all these issues, a lot of what Bioneers talks about is that it is all connected. It is not just the web of life that is infinitely interconnected; it is all the issues are interconnected. That was probably the biggest influence we had on the film was to tip it in the direction of solutions, so the latter third of the movie really focuses on the kinds of solutions that the Bioneers are promoting, which work. I mean, in 90% of the problems that we face, we know what to do right now, with state of the shelf solutions; things that we already have. So there's things we need to figure out and things we still need to invent. And there's tremendous prosperity that resides there, but, hey, we already know what to do. It's a matter of having the, you know, we have intention-deficit disorder, that's the main thing.
[Thom]: There you go. There you go. Bioneers.org is Kenny Ausubel's organization. The 11th Hour, 11thhourfilm.com and 11thhouraction.com two great web sites. Kenny, thanks for being with us today.
[Ausubel]: Thank you. Bye bye.
[Thom]: Great talking with you.