Found 3,088 Resources containing: Arctic Studies;Alaska;Alaska Natives;Native Art;Indigenous Art
Catalogue card identifies as from the Aleutian Islands. Anthropology catalogue ledger book entry provides the additional and more specific provenience of Bering Island.
This object is on loan to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, from 2010 through 2022. Boat model includes 8 paddles (7 oars at sides for paddling, 1 longer oar at stern for steering) on loan.
Source of the information below: Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska Native Collections: Sharing Knowledge website, by Aron Crowell, entry on this artifact http://alaska.si.edu/record.asp?id=165, retrieved 5-7-2014: Umiak model Large skin boats carried people and cargo between islands and on long-distance expeditions. The nigaalag, made with a driftwood frame and covered with sea lion skins, could hold up to twenty passengers and crew. The original design had a rounded bow and was propelled with paddles. Russian fur trade companies imported a Siberian design that was more suited to their purposes. These boats, which resembled the model shown here, were wider, more stable, and had wooden seats. The bow was slanted and sharply pointed, and oars were used. The modified boats are often called by their Russian name, baidar. From Elders' discussions of the hat in 2003 (see web page cited above for the full entries) with Mary N. Bourdukofsky, Vlass Shabolin, Maria Turnpaugh and Daria Dirks (Tanadgusix Foundation) at the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian, 4/07/2003-4/11/2003. Also participating: Aron Crowell and Bill Fitzhugh (NMNH) and Suzi Jones (AMHA). Maria Turnpaugh: Baidar. (Open skin boat.) Daria Dirks: How do you say this in Aleut [Unangam Tunuu]? Vlass Shabolin: Nig^aalag^ [open skin boat, canvas boat]. In early years, this was used for halibut fishing and sea lion hunting on the water. When the men used to go fur seal hunting, they'd come in on the beach in the rocks there, and then they'd put all the skins inside the baidar. The crew would take it back into the village, so the fur seals could be processed. Other than that, whenever the boat came in from Seattle with our cargo - the groceries, coal and everything - the baidar was used for bringing in our supplies from the boat, because the water was shallow near the docks, so the baidars did the work. And these baidars were seaworthy, where even if you got it full of water, they'd float. So it’s still in our tradition, the baidar. Mary Bourdukofsky: They used to say they’re very sea worthy, you could trust the baidar in any kind of weather. And they're very easy to maneuver. Vlass Shabolin: It was the best thing the Aleuts made. This was actually for cargo, and then they used the little dories for fishing and stuff like that. This is a work boat, that’s what it is, for the Aleuts. Mary Bourdukofsky: It even has its oars, nog^asix^ [oar, paddle]. Vlass Shabolin: This model here has eight people that will oar the baidar, and one coxswain that sits at the back end and takes care of controlling the baidar. On the back here, we had a little stand for our coxswain to stand on to run the baidar when it’s surfing or whenever they were oaring it to the dock there. Aron Crowell: Does he use that longer paddle?
Vlass Shabolin: Yes, that's for the coxswain on the back end. Mary Bourdukofsky: Yes, to steer. Each man uses one paddle on both sides - there’s eight sitting down. Vlass Shabolin: The coxswain would be hollering on the back end, “Nog^athatha [rowing]!” Then when it's time to turn the boat, they say, "Tabanetha [turn the boat right or left], tabanetha!" It was teamwork. Usually they would use the same crew every year, then later on they'd teach the younger guys. I learned to do that in the 1960s. Vlass Shabolin: When they first made the baidars, they used sea lion skin. They dried up the sea lion skins, and they sewed them together and put it over the ribs. They put it on as tight as they can, then they put the seats on, then the oars. Then many years later, it changed where we started using canvas instead of sea lion skins for the body, and they'd use the sewing machine to put the canvas together. After they do that, they lay it over the ribs of the baidar. Then we'd heat some bee wax and coat it onto the canvas there to make it waterproof and sea worthy. Mary Bourdukofsky: I remember my dad said the seams were very important, the ones they sewed together. I have picture of it back home, pictures of an old one with my dad. And it looks like they have white paint on them, was some sort of putty that seals all the seams. Vlass Shabolin: Oh, that was caulking that used to coat. Mary Bourdukofsky: Yes, and then the last thing they put on is linseed oil on that canvas. Vlass Shabolin: The government supplied all the woodwork for the ribs and then the canvas for the cover. Mary Bourdukofsky: They use steam [to bend the wood for the ribs]. They a build fire and have water boiling there. And as soon as they're dampened, because they’re in the steam, they're easy to bend. If it cracks you can't use it. And then they tie them as fast as they can with sinew, a long time ago, but now they use waxed twine or something. This one looks like it has sinew. Aron Crowell: Is this something the whole village would work on? Mary Bourdukofsky: The men do. Vlass Shabolin: You use a certain rope here [lashing around rim]. You can't just get any rope you want and then tie it on. These ropes soften once it gets wet. Mary Bourdukofsky: They waxed them.
Vlass Shabolin: And then every rib is done the same way, and then you've got certain lengths you put in certain areas. Like when they put it together, they'd start the centerpiece first, with the width. Aron Crowell: The shape is very different than an umiak from up north, and one thing I've heard is that this type of boat could be launched right off the beach into the surf. Is it designed for that? Mary Bourdukofsky: Yes, it's pointed, narrow. Vlass Shabolin: The point is for the surf, so your boat won't get out of control and move around. Just like when you buy a skiff, you get the V-shape. That surfs right into the water, straight as it could. If you had a flat bow, then the wind could move you anyplace it'd want, just move you like a piece of driftwood that's on the water when the wind blows about twenty, twenty-five knots. At thirty-five knots these things could really go, and then you could surf with this at twelve-foot waves, even if it's breaking in the harbor. So that's why I said they were sea worthy, even if you got it full of water, with all the load inside of it, it will float. Aron Crowell: Can you launch it off the beach in heavy surf? Vlass Shabolin: Oh, yes. It takes a whole crew, and then sometimes we put it on a skid, but other than that, when you get down to the beach, everybody gets together and starts pushing it down towards the water, and that's how we launch it. Aron Crowell: What would the length be? Vlass Shabolin: Maybe thirty-two feet long. Cargo capacity Aron Crowell: How much do you think a baidar could carry? Vlass Shabolin: A boat like this will maybe carry three nets on the front and in the back, and then you could put a car or a pickup right on top of these seats here and you could bring it in into the harbor. Aron Crowell: So maybe three to four tons? Mary Bourdukofsky: Maybe three tons or four tons. Vlass Shabolin: During wintertime we did all the repairs on this baidar.
Mary Bourdukofsky: They get it ready for spring. Vlass Shabolin: They were maintained constantly, because they were the only thing we had for transportation to go to the boat and then back with the cargo. St. George Island is nothing but rocks, and Garden Cove was the only area where they had sand, but a lot of time they get a hole in it on a low tide on the rocks. So the water's coming in, the men will take their gloves off or whatever and plug the hole up until they get to the landing. When they get to the landing, they beach it and turn it over. One guy comes with a sewing kit, patches it up, and then they put it back in the water again. We had good maintenance on the baidar every time we used it.
Illus. Fig. 7, p. 167 in Anichtchenko, Evguenia. Open skin boats of the Aleutians, Kodiak Island, and Prince William Sound. Etudes inuit. Inuit studies, Vol. 36, No. 1, 2012: 157-181. Identified there: "The Smithsonian model ... and the early 20th-century pictures of open skin boats on the Pribilof Islands show boats propelled by oarsmen, but steered by a long stern oar instead of a rudder. Stern oars are a more practical option for a light-weight skin boat, since a rudder would not just change the boat's centre of gravity but also make it difficult to drag ashore or launch into the surf."
This summer, all eyes will be on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in anticipation of the 2016 Summer Olympics. “Rio” may recall images Christ the Redeemer overlooking the city, soccer games on beaches and colorful Carnival floats. While the city doesn’t have a spotless reputation—pollution and crime still haunt it—Rio offers plenty of delights for the intrepid traveler. Below are eleven fun facts about the place nicknamed Cidade Maravilhosa, or Marvelous City.
1. Rio is named for a river that doesn’t exist
According to tradition, the spot now called Rio de Janeiro was first visited in January 1502 by Portuguese explorers, who believed the bay they encountered (now called Guanabara Bay) was the mouth of a river. They named the area named Rio de Janeiro, “River of January.” This etymology is widely accepted, although some scholars argue that in 16th-century Portuguese, a rio might have been a looser term for any deep indentation along a coast—meaning those explorers weren’t quite as confused as they might seem.
2. It was once part of a colony called Antarctic France
The Portuguese were the first European explorers on the scene, but the French were the first settlers. In 1555, a French aristocrat named Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon, sponsored by Henry IV, founded a fort on an island in Guanabara Bay (the island still bears his name). It was the beginning of a colony named France Antarctique, meant to provide both a strategic base for France in the Americas and a refuge for persecuted French Protestants.
The colony was short-lived, however: After a fight with a second group of settlers over whether the wine consecrated in the Eucharist should contain water, Villegagnon was expelled to the mainland and eventually went back to France. The colony briefly continued without him, but sectarian strife spelled trouble from within, while the Portuguese became a threat from without. In 1567, the Portuguese destroyed the colony, cementing their hold on the country.
3. The French once held it for ransom
Prospectors discovered gold in Brazil in the 1690s, and diamonds a few decades later. As the closest port to the mines, Rio boomed—and the French noticed. Already embroiled in a war with the Portuguese, they sent privateers to attack in 1710. That group failed, but others came back better-armed the following year. This time they were successful, bombarding Rio until the Portuguese governor fled, taking most of the population with him. The governor, Francisco de Castro Morais, eventually negotiated Rio back for 612,000 gold cruzados and 100 chests of sugar, but the Portuguese sentenced him to exile in Portuguese India for being such a coward.
4. It served as the capital of the Portuguese Empire for almost seven years
Rio was capital of Brazil from 1763 until 1960, when that role was transferred to Brasilia. But from 1808 to 1822, Rio also served as the center for the exiled royal court of Portugal, then fleeing Napoleon’s invasion. Prince Regent Dom João VI arrived with the rest of the royal family in 1808—the first time a European monarch set foot in the Americas—and began transforming the city, establishing a medical school, national museum, national library and botanical gardens. In December 1815, Dom João made Rio the official capital of the Portuguese empire, a role it served until Brazil declared independence from Portugal in September 1822.
The city's history as the capital of Brazil is preserved in the nation’s flag, which is decorated with an image of the night sky as it appeared over Rio on November 15, 1889, the day Brazil declared itself a federal republic.
5. Its residents might be named for a house, or maybe a fish
Rio’s locals are called carioca (a name also sometimes applied as an adjective to the city itself). The term's etymology is disputed: some say it comes from kari ola, or "white man's house" in the indigenous Tupi language, perhaps a reference to a stone house built by an early Portuguese trader that looked different from native dwellings. But kari may also come from a fish known as the acari, whose reflective scales, some say, might suggest European armor."Christ the Redeemer" overlooking Rio de Janeiro (© Danny Lehman/Corbis)
6. Its giant statue of Jesus is struck by lightning several times a year
Brazil's location near the equator makes it active area for lightning, which means Rio’s beloved 98-foot statue of Jesus perched atop Corcovado mountain might not be the best idea, safety-wise. The Brazilian Institute of Space Research says the statue, which was completed in 1931, gets two to four direct hits from lightning every year. A system of lightning rods within the statue is meant to ground the electricity, but it isn’t always effective. Last January, lightning broke off a piece of the statue's right thumb and damaged the head. The city seems willing to pay for multiple restorations, even though the pale gray-green soapstone that covers the statue is becoming hard to find.
7. For five days a year, the city is run by a mythical jester named King Momo
Rio explodes with energy and color during the five days before Ash Wednesday, when millions take to the streets for the world’s biggest Carnival. The party starts on the Friday, when the mayor hands over the keys to the city to a man crowned as King Momo, a mythical jester who acts as the head of the festivities. Rio's Carnival features hundreds of booze-soaked bandas (riotous street parties, often with specific themes) and elaborate balls. The party reaches its height at the Sambódromo, when the best samba schools in the country compete for top prize. (Think a samba-only, Brazilian version of Eurovision, with even more feathers.) The results are announced on Ash Wednesday, when Carnival is officially over, and King Momo goes home.The Sambadrome at Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2013 (© Antonino Bartuccio/Grand Tour/Grand Tour/Corbis)
8. It hosted the world's biggest soccer game
On July 16, 1950, 173,850 paid spectators packed into the Maracanã stadium, then the world's biggest, for the final game of the 1950 World Cup. An estimated ten percent of Rio’s population watched as Uruguay snatched victory from the Brazilians, an event the local media dubbed the Maracanazo (a term still used when a visiting team triumphs). The game holds the world record for the highest attendance at any soccer match, ever. The stadium has since become a national symbol, what The New York Times calls a “cathedral of soccer,” and is set to host the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics. The Maracanã also hosts events beyond soccer: Frank Sinatra, The Rolling Stones and Madonna have all played concerts there.
9. The city put QR codes in its mosaic sidewalks
Portuguese pavement is a type of decorative stone mosaic, usually black-and-white, found on sidewalks and other pedestrian areas throughout Portugal and former colonies. One of the most famous examples is the bold, abstract waves that run the length of the Copacabana beach sidewalk, designed by landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. In 2013, the city began installing dozens of QR codes into the mosaics at Copacabana and elsewhere to provide tourist information for visitors. Perhaps not surprisingly, they got the idea from Portugal.Portuguese Pavement, Rio de Janeiro (© Lisa Wiltse/Corbis)
10. Street art is legal there
In 2014, Rio de Janeiro legalized street art on many types of city property, turning the already colorful city into an outdoor art gallery. Street artists are allowed to decorate columns, walls and construction siding, so long as they’re not historically designated. The city has even created a quasi-government agency, Eixo Rio, to regulate the city’s urban artists, and celebrates an official Graffiti Day on March 27—the date Brazilian graffiti pioneer Vallauri Alex died in 1987.Carmen Miranda at a Photographers Ball, early 20th century (© Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS)
11. It has a Carmen Miranda Museum
Sometimes known to American audiences as "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat," Carmen Miranda conquered the silver screen as a singer, dancer and actress in both Brazil and America in the mid-20th century. The Carmen Miranda museum, near Rio’s Flamengo Beach, pays tribute with hundreds of items on display, including her trademark platform heels and towering turbans of plastic or sequined fruit. (Contrary to popular opinion, Miranda never danced with actual fruit, which would probably have fallen off her head.)
This object is on loan to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, from 2010 through 2022.
Source of the information below: Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska Native Collections: Sharing Knowledge website, by Aron Crowell, http://alaska.si.edu/record.asp?id=127 , retrieved 11-28-2011: Chest This clan leader's chest - a bentwood box to hold clan regalia and crest objects - is decorated with operculum shells on the lid and base; these shells are the "trapdoor" pieces from red turban sea snails. Red paint used on the chest was probably hematite, ocher, or cinnabar mixed with grease and crushed salmon eggs. The central carving is a brown bear peering out of the entrance of its cave in spring; the large teeth and nostrils are distinguishing marks of this animal. Carvings of eagles flank the bear on each side, recognizable by their hooked beaks, wings, tails, and curved talons. "Here's the bear looking through his hole. In the fall time they close up their dens with a bunch of sticks and branches. Before he comes out, he looks out that opening, and that's what this represents." - Donald Gregory (Tlingit), 2005.
On the edge of Point Hope I climb a jumbled pile of sea ice. The giant cubes are tilted and heaped, forced up by a storm sometime before I arrived, and later drifted over with snow. It’s early March, a few degrees above zero, and to the southwest the afternoon sun shines faint warmth. From the north a stiff breeze has bite. I watch carefully where I put my feet; I could fall in, wrench a knee, jam my crotch, or pinch a boot down in a fissure. Small tracks show that a fox has climbed up here. The tracks are set, firm but fairly fresh, probably from last night. I come to older, bigger tracks and occasional brown splats. They tell me a human has been here too—one who wore Sorel boots and chewed tobacco.
At the top, I marvel at the unseasonably warm day. I expected minus 20 and a howling ground blizzard. Now in perfect visibility I stare out across the stunning flatness of land and sea. At the horizon, the sky and earth meet in shimmering shades of silver, gray, white, and blue. The ocean is still but shows a struggle in process—the Chukchi Sea is trying to freeze and very much not succeeding. It’s late winter. Point Hope is 125 miles above the Arctic Circle, near the top western corner of Alaska. I should be looking at white pack ice. Instead I’m looking at the thinnest of pressure ridges, skims of floating slush, and dark open water.
Behind me the land is brown and white, gravel and snow. No mountains, no hills, no trees—not a single shrub. There is only a flat grid of gravel streets, power lines, satellite dishes, metal hangers, plywood houses, and a sprawling school, a gymnasium, and a new, bigger gymnasium under construction. Pickup trucks and huge yellow loaders appear and disappear between buildings. Red and green Honda four-wheelers roam the streets like rolling beetles.
Tikigaq (the Inupiaq name for Point Hope) is a high-tech, modern Native community that might well have been dropped on this spit by aliens. Which it basically was: Nearly everything was floated here on a barge of oil-royalty money. Without an unceasing supply of oil dollars this village of 700 would quickly darken into a cold, windblown ghost town.
In the distance, on a pole cache, a traditional umiak (skin boat) used for whaling is lashed tightly against the wind. Farther down the spit are the remains of sod igloos from the old village. For more than 2,000 years the Inupiat have continuously inhabited this featureless protuberance into the Chukchi, in the past living off caribou from the land, and fish, seals, walrus, and of course the mighty whale, from the sea.
The Bering Strait and this coastline are where the ancestors of the first Native Americans arrived from Siberia, some traveling onward and some settling down, and where initial contact later took place between the Inupiat and Outsiders. Russian explorers and then American whalers sailed through, carrying home a mixture of truth and distortions about a land of ice and snow, of dog teams, and Eskimos dressed in furs—hunters surviving an environment harsh beyond comprehension. The Alaska of myth was born right here. This flat gravel point is the imperceptible beginning, or the far end—depending on perspective—of Alaska, a land as tall, wide, and wild as legend.
Distances in this state are so large they lose proportion, and nowadays the distance between past and present, myth and reality, might be the greatest of them all. Sadly, I’m a perfect example. I’m from this land, born in a sod igloo 200 miles east and a little south, raised wearing skins, mushing a dog team, and eating food from the land—akutuq (Eskimo ice cream), seal blubber, boiled grizzly bear, beaver, salmon, muskrat, moose, and anything else that moved. And now? Now I still gather from the land, but I also hold an iPhone in my hand more often than ax, knife, and rifle combined. Nearly everybody here does. Even now, I snap a photo and breathe on my fingertips long enough to reread an email. It’s from an editor, asking for, of all things... The Meaning of Alaska. How ironic. I’ve been trying to fathom that my entire life.
I picture the other end of our state, and what it might be like for a newcomer arriving for the first time by ship from the south. Southeast Alaska is as different from here as day from night—literally. (Night will cease in Point Hope soon.) There the land has almost too much elevation; your neck hurts from staring up at mountains too steep and disorienting not to stare up. They tower straight out of the sea, draped with trees, frosted with crystalline blue-and-white glaciers—so much rock and ice it blocks out half the sky. Alongside your boat, gulls and other seabirds cry and float over the swells, whales blow mist into damp gray evenings, and seals, sea lions, and sea otters dot the surface of the water. Alaska is astounding. It is real—and everything you dreamed it to be.
For hundreds of miles your ship passes the seemingly endless green timbered islands and fjords that line the Inside Passage, a protected route up from Washington and British Columbia. The men and women of the gold rush came through here, too, on their way to the Klondike and Nome and other strikes in 1898, and at first glance this land may seem to have hardly changed in the intervening years. Likely you have never imagined so much green, so many billions of big tall trees carpeting an uneven world. How can there be this much wilderness? you wonder. How can this place even be possible in the 21st century?
And you have hardly arrived at the toe of this giant state! You’ve never eaten muktuk (whale skin and blubber), never gotten frostbite, never been treed by a moose, never been mailed a $1,000 check—for having a pulse. You haven’t even stepped ashore yet.
When you do walk across the wooden dock of Ketchikan, Alaska—1,400 miles in the straightest line you could ever draw from this heap of ice where I stand (not that anyone could walk straight through that much wilderness, crossing some of the largest rivers, mountains, and ice fields on Earth)—the tourist shops and jewelry stores await you. A salesman from South Asia or somewhere equally far away welcomes you in out of the drizzle. He or she begins pressuring you to buy a diamond bracelet—today! A wire rack beside you is plugged with postcards of THE LAST FRONTIER. Every photo is painfully sharpened, and oversaturated with color. Memories of yesterday afternoon, of humpback whales breaching in the dim distance, and bald eagles soaring overhead—the ones you photographed on your iPad—play in your mind.
With one hand on the glass counter, you glance at the door, out at a steady stream of brightly clad tourists passing. And finally, you feel the first faint twinge of our modern Alaskan dichotomy: 30,000 brown bears share this state with us still, but Jack London left a long, long time ago. And if he were still here—in addition to heating his house with stove oil and hoarding Alaska Airlines frequent-flier miles, receiving the State of Alaska monthly Senior Benefits checks, the annual Permanent Fund Dividend, and untold other state and federal subsidies—Jack, old, gray, bearded, alcoholic, and with bad teeth, would probably be wearing a grubby Patagonia jacket and staring down into his Samsung Galaxy.
Of course, there are ways to reach this far place other than by cruise ship. Flying north by jet, the journey is almost too fast to absorb—not much longer than a good movie—and your seat is so soft and padded. No wind is freezing your face or even blowing back your hair. You can sleep the whole way, or maybe you’re playing with your phone and just happen to look down—on a clear day, on the right side of the plane—above Juneau or Glacier Bay, Cordova, or even on approach to Anchorage. What you see catches your breath. It is unearthly. Your eyes blink. Your mind has to reset. The ice and mountains down there—it’s another planet! Didn’t the news say all the glaciers were receding? But it’s all so unbelievably vast. You check your watch, and order another vodka and tonic to help comprehend the sheer wildness below your pressurized perch.
Driving by car, up the Alcan—the Alaska Highway—the trip is different yet again. When will this wilderness ever end? you might think. It does end, right? It takes you a day or possibly several days behind the wheel just to get to the beginning of the highway at Dawson Creek, and then ahead is 1,500 miles more of spruce forests, lakes, rivers, mountains, and muskegs—until you arrive at Fairbanks, in the middle of the state—surrounded by more of the same.
Just two days ago I was flown to Point Hope from Kotzebue, a hub town of 3,000, to teach writing for a week to Inupiaq middle and high school students. It is not easy, but rewarding. In the morning, in a classroom with the sun leaking in, I have the students free-write for four minutes. The prompt is “I remember when...” While pencils scribble, I pace, wandering my own memories, searching for stories to tell.
After the second prompt, when the kids start to fidget and talk, I show them photos on a large screen: of animals, dog teams, and my life growing up in a sod igloo. There’s not one dog team in this village anymore. The kids ask questions. They can’t quite believe a white man grew up in such a way. Boys tell me of hunting seals and caribou. Every student except one has a smartphone. A boy named Dmitri flips through his, shows me a photo of a grizzly bear lying dead. Another boy brags, “He shoot it with .22. When he was 12.”
People shoot animals here. This is a hunting culture. And down in the “States,” what do they shoot? We mostly know from TV shows. Each other? Deer? “Bad Guys”?
Between classes I have a break and accompany the art teacher, a young woman from Colorado named Carrie Imel, to the million-dollar gym where her theater class is meeting. I know nothing about theater and wish to learn. In the gym, chaos threatens as the boys shoot baskets, until Imel herds them together for a warmup—a game I’ve never heard of called Zip, Zap, Zop. We stand in a circle. A person points suddenly at someone, anyone, and shouts “Zip.” That person points at a random person and shouts “Zap.” The next, “Zop.” And so forth. It’s fast, and gets faster, with all eyes darting. I’m dyslexic, and haven’t had enough coffee for this. Quickly I’m boggled, and out. I lean against a wall reflecting on this Far North, white-teaching-Native experience. It feels surreal and nonsensical, as if all of us are moving nowhere, at warp speed; like we humans are playing Zip, Zap, Zop while our planet plunges toward darkness.
I step outside to clear my head. The snow is bright, the sun warm, and the day reminiscent of May, not March. Dogs bark and snowmobiles growl past. It’s beautiful out, and silently I joke to myself: How did we survive before climate change? This weather, though, everyone knows is wrong. The Arctic is melting. Everything is changing too fast. This spit is eroding due to lengthening ice-free seasons and storm surges, and this town could be washed away in the coming few decades. A nearby village down the coast, Kivalina, is already succumbing to the sea. The government has poured millions into seawalls, only to have the next storms take them away.
Travel to these villages and you might think you see poverty. Actually, more state and federal money per capita is spent here than in nearly any other place in America. You might see trash heaped and strewn around our homes, yet at the edge of our towns is the near-pristine wild. You might see communities that you swear are behind the times—they need water and sewers, jobs and education, right? They need to catch up!
But what if in one crucial way our small far-flung communities are not behind, but ahead? What if they are the bellwethers of what happens when too much change comes too quickly to a society? Inupiaq culture, after all, has traveled from fur-clad hunters with stone-tipped harpoons to kids carrying iPhones—in just 200 years.
Alaska’s official motto, “North to the Future,” is as true as it’s ever been, here, and across this state. In the past few decades, glaciers have been melting at a dramatically accelerated rate, with the state losing more than 20 cubic miles of glacial ice each year. Thawing permafrost is releasing millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. Spruce are sprouting on the tundra, seals are losing their day care (ice sheets), and an unidentified 12-mile-long brown blob of algae termed “Arctic goo” has formed in the ocean off Barrow, the northern tip of the United States.
Yet our Western myth lives on: Big bears still roam this land, wolves are as common as they ever were, and caribou pass by in the thousands. Uninhabited coastlines go on forever. Millions of acres of wilderness wait, with countless ways to freeze your feet, get a billion mosquito bites, or die absolutely alone from a foolish mistake. America, if you want to glimpse your past, present, and future all at once—all mixed together—this land is your land.
What would you want to eat if you were starving on a dinghy lost at sea? In the 2001 novel Life of Pi, adapted as a movie now in theaters, the castaway protagonist, a 16-year-old Indian boy nicknamed Pi, spends the better part of a year on a lifeboat—and one day as he reaches a near-death pinnacle of hunger, suffering and delirium, he envisions a tree full of ripe figs. “‘The branches…are bent over, they are so weighed down with figs,’” Pi drones to himself in reverie. “‘There must be over three hundred figs in that tree.’” Readers are convinced: Perhaps nothing beats a fig for a starving man.
Life of Pi is fiction, but daydreaming of food is a real-life tradition as old as the saga of man against the elements. If we scour the pages of the many books about grueling expeditions across land and sea, we find an impassioned menu of sweet and savory delights to make the mouth water. In his 1986 memoir Adrift, author Steve Callahan—a sailor who was lost at sea for 76 days in 1982—sets a lavish table of dreams on page 108: “I spend an increasing amount of time thinking about food. Fantasies about an inn-restaurant become very detailed. I know how the chairs will be arranged and what the menu will offer. Steaming sherried crab overflows flaky pie shells bedded on rice pilaf and toasted almonds. Fresh muffins puff out of pans. Melted butter drools down the sides of warm, broken bread. The aroma of baking pies and brownies wafts through the air. Chilly mounds of ice cream stand firm in my mind’s eye. I try to make the visions melt away, but hunger keeps me awake for hours at night. I am angry with the pain of hunger, but even as I eat it will not stop.” (Film director Ang Lee consulted Callahan during the making of Life of Pi for accuracy in portraying the hardships of being lost at sea.)
Men Against the Sea, the historical fiction account of the sailors cast away on a lifeboat by the mutineers of HMS Bounty, is a novella steeped in stomach-scraping hunger. At one point, a man named Lawrence Lebogue exclaims after a failed skirmish with a huge sea turtle he had nearly pulled into the boat, “‘A monster…all of two hundredweight! … To think of the grub we’ve lost! Did ‘ee ever taste a bit of calipee?’” (Calipee is a main ingredient in turtle soup.) Moments later, Capt. William Bligh tells the crew’s botanist, David Nelson, of the feasts he sat in on in the West Indies. Bligh describes “‘their stuffing and swilling of wine. Sangaree and rum punch and Madeira till one marveled they could hold it all. And the food! Pepper pot, turtle soup, turtle steaks, grilled calipee; on my word, I’ve seen enough, at a dinner for six, to feed us from here to Timor!’”
Bligh and the loyal men of the Bounty lived like princes compared with those of the Essex, the Nantucket whaling ship rammed and sunk by an angry bull sperm whale in 1820. In Owen Chase’s autobiographical account of the ordeal, part of the book The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale, the first mate holds a mostly dry and colorless course: He tells of how the 20 men journeyed for weeks in their small open boats, racing time, dehydration and starvation. They attempt in vain to kill sharks and porpoises, they land on an island and quickly exhaust its thin resources of bird eggs, and they continue across the open Pacific, hoping always to see a sail while growing ever weaker and emaciated. Through it all, the New Englanders essentially never eat or drink. Finally, Chase pauses in his chronology of dates and coordinates to tell of a moment in which he dozed off: “I dreamt of being placed near a splendid and rich repast, where there was every thing that the most dainty appetite could desire; and of contemplating the moment in which we were to commence to eat with enraptured feelings of delight; and just as I was about to partake of it, I suddenly awoke….” Chase leaves us with our eager forks aloft—and we never learn just what it was that he hoped to eat. Turtle soup, likely. In the following days as the anguished men expired one by one, Chase and his companions resorted to cannibalism. Just eight of the lot were rescued.
While stranded for the austral winter of 1916 on the barren Elephant Island, one of the South Shetland Islands, after escaping from Antarctica in three tiny lifeboats, the crew of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition passed the time reading through a Penny Cookbook that one of the men had kept dry through many months of dire tribulations. And how that book made them dream! The men had been living for months on seal (and sled dog) meat, and Thomas Ordes-Lee, the expedition’s ski expert and storekeeper, wrote in his journal, “e want to be overfed, grossly overfed, yes, very grossly overfed on nothing but porridge and sugar, black currant and apple pudding and cream, cake, milk, eggs, jam, honey and bread and butter till we burst, and we’ll shoot the man who offers us meat. We don’t want to see or hear of any more meat as long as we live.” Their carb cravings were more apparent when one man—the surgeon James McIlroy—conducted a poll to see what each sailor would have to eat if he could choose anything. Their answers included apple pudding, Devonshire dumpling, porridge, Christmas dumpling, dough and syrup and a fruit tart—with most of these dolloped with cream. Just two men wished for meat (pork was their choice), while one with a bleaker imagination said he just wanted bread and butter. For three more months until their rescue, they ate seal and rehydrated milk.
Author Jon Krakauer tells us in his 1990 Eiger Dreams of the time 15 years before that he and a climber friend named Nate Zinsser were holed up during a storm while ascending a new route up the 10,335-foot peak Moose’s Tooth, in Alaska. Dreaming of food, Zinsser said, “If we had some ham, we could make ham and eggs, if we had some eggs.” In The Worst Journey in the World, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, an expedition member on Robert Scott’s doomed Antarctic voyage of 1901-1903 on the Discovery, recalls one frigid winter’s day, saying, “And I wanted peaches and syrup—badly.” And Felicity Aston, a modern explorer from Britain whom I interviewed last January about her solo ski trip across Antarctica, recalled as a highlight of her journey receiving a gift of a nectarine and an apple upon reaching the South Pole research station.
There was no food shortage on the Norwegian research vessel Fram, which Fridtjof Nansen captained into the Arctic Ocean in 1893. His sturdy boat was built with a fortified hull under the plan that she would become frozen in the sea ice and thereby allow Nansen to track the drift of the ice layer by watching the stars—classic, rock solid science in the golden age of discovery. It was a planned “disaster” voyage—and the men went prepared. Nansen, who finally stumbled home again in 1896 caked in campfire soot and seal grease, wrote in his 1897 memoir Farthest North that the expedition carried at the outset several years’ worth of canned and dried foods of numerous sorts. Only during foot or skiff expeditions away from the boat—such as Nansen’s long hike home—did the team members experience great monotony of diet. On one outing, they forgot butter to slab on their biscuits and so named the nearest land “Cape Butterless.” They lived during longer forays on seal, walrus and polar bear—pinniped and bear for breakfast, lunch and dinner; so much pinniped and bear that the reader feels an itch to floss his teeth and scrub down with dish detergent. Meanwhile, Nansen stops to take depth soundings, sketch fossils, study rock strata and express interest in every piece of possible data—and though the pragmatic scientist never does slip into a shameless food fantasy, we know he had them.
If you’d been in Nansen’s boots, what would you have piled on your plate?
Per Repatriation Office research, as reported in the Tlingit case report (Hollinger et al. 2005), in 1893, Herbert G. Ogden received a wooden helmet in trade from the leaders of the Ishkeetaan clan from the Upper Taku River area of British Columbia.
Source of the information below: Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska Native Collections: Sharing Knowledge website, by Aron Crowell, entry on this artifact http://alaska.si.edu/record.asp?id=261 , retrieved 9-20-2011: Helmet. Tlingit warriors wore carved and decorated helmets, mask-like wooden "collars" over their necks and faces, thick leather tunics, and wooden body armor. Their weapons included bows and arrows, short spears, war clubs, and double-bladed daggers.(1) This helmet, collected in 1893 from the T'aaku/Taku of the upper Taku River in British Columbia, shows a wrinkled human face that was once embellished with bear fur whiskers and shocks of human hair.(2) Its eyebrows are painted brown, the eyes black, and the lips reddish brown against a background of light green. The figure's pierced hands stretch across the front rim of the helmet, joined to a stylized body that is painted around the back. The helmet was carved from a hard, dense spruce burl. Tlingit helmets depict human beings or crest animals belonging to the owner's clan. (3) Helmets were carved from tree roots or knots for strength, and were very dense and heavy. Tomas Suria, who was at Yakutat with the Malaspina expedition in 1791, wrote that, "They construct the helmet of various shapes; usually it is a piece of wood, very solid and thick, so much so, that when I put on one it weighed the same as if it had been of iron."(4) Some type of padding needed to be worn underneath the hat, such as a fur cap.(5) Russian naval office Urey Lisianskii, who helped the Russian-American Company's Alexander Baranov fight the Tlingit at Sitka in 1804, noted that the helmets "are so thick, that a musket-ball, fired at a moderate distance, can hardly penetrate them."(6) Nonetheless, Tlingit helmets and wooden body armor gradually went out of use as firearms became more common on the Northwest Coast. The helmets continued to be important as at.óow, or crest objects owned by clans and presented at potlatches.(7) Tlingit warfare usually pitted one clan against another, rather than whole tribes or villages. It often developed from the harm or insult that one individual suffered at the hands of a person from another clan, and escalated into a conflict that involved all of the relatives on both sides.(8) One observer wrote in 1885 that, "For every bodily injury, for any damage to his goods and property, for any infringement by strangers on his hunting or trading territory, full compensation is demanded or exacted by force."(9) Raiders often attacked their enemies at dawn, killing the men and taking women and children as prisoners and slaves.(10) However, disputes were sometimes settled by duels in which solo fighters from each side fought each other armed only with daggers and dressed in their armor and helmets.(11) 1. DeLaguna 1972:590-91; Emmons 1991:337-46; Holmberg 1985:22; Hough 1895; Lisianskii 1968:149-50; Olson 2002:109, 478-89. 2. DeLaguna 1990:218; Fitzhugh and Crowell 1988:232 3. Emmons 1991:344-45 4. W. M Olson 2002:479 5. Emmons 1991:342 6. Lisianskii 1968:150 7. Jonaitis 1986:21; Lisianskii 1968:150 8. Emmons 1991:328; R. L. Olson 1967:69-82 9. Krause 1956:169 10. Krause 1956:170; Litke 1987:87; Niblack 1890:340-42 11. Holmberg 1985:22; Niblack 1890:342
This object is on loan to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, from 2010 through 2022.
Scientists, including those who study race, like to see themselves as objectively exploring the world, above the political fray. But such views of scientific neutrality are naive, as study findings, inevitably, are influenced by the biases of the people conducting the work.
The American sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois once wrote, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” His words were borne out, in part, by science. It was the century when the scientifically backed enterprise of eugenics—improving the genetic quality of white, European races by removing people deemed inferior—gained massive popularity, with advocates on both sides of the Atlantic. It would take the Holocaust to show the world the logical endpoint of such horrific ideology, discrediting much race-based science and forcing eugenics’ most hardline adherents into the shadows.
The post-war era saw scientists on the right-wing fringe find ways to cloak their racist views in more palatable language and concepts. And as Angela Saini convincingly argues in her new book, Superior: The Return of Race Science, published May 21 by Beacon Press, the “problem of the color line” still survives today in 21st-century science.
In her thoroughly researched book, Saini, a London-based science journalist, provides clear explanations of racist concepts while diving into the history of race science, from archaeology and anthropology to biology and genetics. Her work involved poring through technical papers, reports and books, and interviewing numerous scientists across various fields, sometimes asking uncomfortable questions about their research.
“Mainstream scientists, geneticists and medical researchers still invoke race and use these categories in their work, even though we have been told for 70 years that they have no biological meaning, that they have only social meaning,” Saini says.
Scientific research has struggled with concepts of race for centuries, often proposing misleading or erroneous explanations of racial differences. Contentious debates among Europeans about the origins of modern humans began in the 19th century, and many of the continent’s leading scientists believed firmly that Europeans exemplified the most evolved and intelligent humans. Human fossils in Europe provided the first data points in the budding field of paleoanthropology, but the region was in reality just where European archaeologists happened to start looking. Fossils, as well as cave art, DNA samples and other evidence later uncovered around the world pointed to a more complex picture of human origins: Elements of modern humans emerged throughout Africa, and those people migrated east and then north and west in waves.
Rather than distinct races, groupings or borders, the continually mixing populations produced only gradients, with some traits slightly more common in some regions than others. Lighter skin color in northern climates emerged late; some Britons were shocked to learn that Cheddar Man, the remains of a man who lived in southwest England almost 10,000 years ago, would today have been considered black.
In the 1950s, geneticists began to confirm what some archaeologists had already surmised: “Individual variation within population groups, overlapping with other population groups, turned out to be so large that the boundaries of race made less and less sense,” Saini writes. The conclusion was that no “pure” races exist that are distinct from others. Despite this evidence, those eugenicists still practicing sought to prevent their supposedly superior race from being overrun by immigration, miscegenation and higher birth rates among other ethnicities.
While few people study or advocate for eugenics today, some scientists in the rapidly advancing field of genetics held onto related ideologies after World War II. They simply used different terms, Saini points out, as some continued with race-focused research while referring to “populations” and “human variation” rather than “races” and “racial differences.” Geneticist James Watson, for instance, a co-discoverer of DNA’s double helix structure, has frequently been the subject of withering criticism for voicing racist beliefs, including that differences on tests of intelligence have a racial component, and arguing that Indians are servile and that Chinese people have somehow become genetically conformist.
A handful of researchers with similar beliefs, including former Nazi scientist Otmar von Verschuer and British eugenicist Roger Pearson, had trouble getting their research published in reputable journals and formed their own journal in 1961. Mankind Quarterly became a platform for race science—a place to publish questionable research under the trappings of objective science. Intelligence, a more respected psychology journal that’s published by the major publishing company Elsevier, also occasionally included papers with pseudoscientific findings about intelligence differences between races. Until recently, that journal had two eugenics supporters, Gerhard Heisenberg and Richard Lynn, on its editorial board. But by the time Saini finished her book late last year, after interviewing the journal’s editor-in-chief, she saw that the pair had been removed from the journal’s list of board members.
“The extreme stuff poses a dilemma for legitimate scientists, since you can’t read every crank’s work and falsify it,” says Aaron Panofsky, a sociologist of science at UCLA and author of the book, Misbehaving Science: Controversy and the Development of Behavior Genetics. Researchers don’t want to endow these papers with more legitimacy than they deserve, but they don’t want to ignore them and risk fueling conspiracy theories, either.
While Mankind Quarterly has managed to hang on into the 21st century, “hard-core scientific racists are mostly old white men, and they’re not being reproduced in academia,” Panofsky says. Even so, plenty of racist, young white men continue to promote concepts of scientific racism, such as the participants in the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia—an event that even the scientific journal Nature felt the need to condemn.
Even more well-meaning epidemiological scientists nonetheless still use race as a crude proxy for myriad social and environmental factors. Saini cites an example of a 2017 study with statistical errors claiming that race and biology indicate that the airways of asthmatic black Americans become more inflamed than those of asthmatic white Americans. Black Americans do suffer more from asthma than whites do, but they’re also affected more by environmental hazards like air pollution from highways and factories as well as disparities in access to high-quality healthcare. These many forms of inequality and structural racism—which sociologists have documented for decades—were swept under the rug in favor of a race variable that led to findings that could be easily misinterpreted.
In another example, Saini describes the ill-fated 1990s Human Genome Diversity Project, which analyzed the genetic variations of small, remote populations referred to as “isolates,” including the Basques in Europe, the Kurds of eastern Turkey and Native American tribes. Indigenous rights activists, understandably sensitive to being exploited, resisted the project, surprising the naive scientists.
Time and time again, groupings by race, even if they don’t use the term “race,” can be dangerous and misleading to people looking for inherent biological differences. But Saini doesn’t think we can be “colorblind” or “post-race” in scientific research either. Scientists who claim to be so tend to have the same problem as the asthma study, ignoring racial inequalities all around that influence a study’s findings. Saini also explores the possibility of affirmative action policies, reparations or environmental justice advocacy, all intended to mitigate structural, historical and scientific racism.
Like many geneticists, Saini argues that since race is a social construct, it doesn’t belong in genetics research. Scientists in other fields have the freedom to study race, she writes, but with that freedom comes responsibility. They can’t afford to leave room for misinterpretation. Researchers using racial categories “should fully understand what they mean, be able to define them, and know their history,” Saini writes.
The rest of us, too, need to be aware of racial stereotypes, lest we fall prey to them. “That’s part of the reason that we’re fascinated by DNA ancestry testing,” Saini says. “The reason it matters to us is because we feel that these racial categories have some meaning, that they can tell us something about ourselves, and that’s just wrong. They can’t.”
I’m standing a thousand feet above the streets of New York City, on the 86th floor observatory deck of the Empire State Building, looking for birds. It’s a few hours after sunset, and New York City naturalist Robert “Birding Bob” DeCandido is leading our small group. We can see the cityscape in every direction as the cool wind tousles our hair, but our gaze is focused up. Migrating songbirds, many of which travel by night to keep cool and avoid predators, are passing high overhead on their autumn journey. DeCandido has taught us how to differentiate the movement of small birds—“See how they flap-flap-glide?” he tells us—from the erratic motions of moths, But there is another denizen of the city’s skies that we’re all hoping to see.
A blur of a bird zips past the western flank of the building, level with the observatory. It’s too fast for a gull, too big for a songbird. Maybe a pigeon. Maybe something else. There is an excited buzz as we fumble with binoculars, unable to track the receding figure.
Ten minutes after that first flash, an unmistakable form draws our eyes directly overhead. Collectively, we cry, “Peregrine!” The falcon is smaller than the red-tailed hawks that live in Central Park, and sleeker, with a long, narrow tail that flares as the bird turns and sharp, pointed wings that propel its body fiercely. It loops around the building, in complete control as it navigates the blustery night air, its undersides transformed into a ghostly white by the upward shine of the building's glaring spotlights. It closes in on a potential perch midway up the spire and then suddenly veers south and disappears into the night.
“Come back,” someone whispers plaintively.
“Show me the top of the food chain,” says another.
There is a reason fighter jets and football teams are named after falcons. At their standard cruising speed of 40 miles per hour, peregrines are apace with pigeons and many other birds that are the basis for their diet, but falcons can go into overdrive in an aerial feat known as a stoop. They rise dozens of feet above their prey, tuck their wings in tightly against their bodies, and dive – a furious, feathered mission. The fastest animal on earth, they have been clocked at over 200 miles per hour as they descend upon their target, balling up their talons to stun their prey and then – supremely agile, able to turn upside down with a quick flip of the wing – scooping up their meal.
Forty years ago, we couldn’t have seen a peregrine falcon from atop the Empire State Building, or anywhere else on the entire East Coast. They were nearly obliterated in the middle of the 20th century by the effects of the pesticide DDT. Seed-eating songbirds fed on treated crops and were in turn eaten by the avian predators hovering at the top of the ecological pyramid. The pesticide didn’t kill adult falcons, but it concentrated in their tissues and interfered with females’ ability to produce strong eggshells. Brooding peregrines, settling down upon their clutches to keep them warm, were crushing their progeny with the weight of their bodies. In 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published, warning of the unintended consequences of our new chemical age. By 1964, not a single peregrine falcon was found east of the Mississippi River.
In 1970, an improbable team of scientists and falconers that became known as the Peregrine Fund banded together at Cornell University in upstate New York to bring back the birds. Under the guidance of ornithologist Tom Cade, they planned to breed the birds in captivity and then release them into the wild after DDT had been banned, which it was in 1972. Because so few of the native falcons were left in the wild in the continental United States, they gathered peregrine falcons from around the globe, creating an avian immigrant story. They used the few members they could find of the subspecies that had dominated the United States, Falco peregrinus anatum, but added a handful of other birds—of the F. p. pealei subspecies from British Columbia and peregrinus from Scotland, brookei from Spain and cassini from Chile, tundrius from arctic Alaska and macropus from the southern reaches of Australia. While some people objected to the mixing of lineages, the scientists knew their options were limited. They also made the argument that hybridization could actually be a boon to a species that was facing a genetic bottleneck if they survived at all. “A peregrine is a peregrine,” Cade told me. Give the new generation of peregrines all the world’s genes, the logic went, and at least some of the birds will be fit to replace America’s lost peregrines—to traverse the fields of this region, live off the bounty of its airborne harvest, nest along its rocky cliffs.
The Peregrine Fund started with a small team of staff and volunteers who skirted building codes as they lived illegally in the peregrine breeding barn, cooking on a two-burner hot plate and bathing with a garden hose through upstate New York winters – anything to be with the birds 24/7 during the tenuous process of raising the vulnerable chicks. Using both natural and artificial insemination, breeding began in 1971, and just two years later, the Peregrine Fund newsletter announced a “bumper year.”
“In 1973, we raised 21 young from three fertile pairs,” Cade told me. “That clinched it in our minds that we could do this. We’d need dozens of falcons, but not hundreds.” With 30 breeding pairs, they could repopulate the eastern United States. Starting in 1974, the Fund began to release fledgling birds in prime peregrine habitat, wild places from New York's Adirondack Mountains to Maine's Acadia National Park.
Image by Deborah Allen. A peregrine falcon fledgling stretches its wings on the Brooklyn Bridge. (original image)
Image by Peter Arnold, Inc. / Alamy. Peregrine falcons are the fastest animal on earth. They have been clocked at over 200 miles per hour as they descend upon their target. (original image)
Image by Deborah Allen. A peregrine falcon fledgling walks along a beam above Brooklyn bound traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge. (original image)
Image by Deborah Allen. An adult male peregrine falcon feeds a small passerine to a fledgling on the Brooklyn Bridge. (original image)
Image by Deborah Allen. An adult peregrine falcon takes off from a gargoyle on Riverside Church in Manhattan. (original image)
Image by Deborah Allen. Robert DeCandido, left, leads a bird walk in Central Park. (original image)
Then the birds reappeared, against all expectation, in the largest city around. A peregrine released in New Hampshire in 1981 showed up on the Throgs Neck Bridge in New York City two years later, the beginning of the abundance we see today. Over the course of nearly two decades, more than 3,000 young peregrines were released across the United States. Thousands of pairs are now breeding in the wild in North America, and the birds were taken off the federal endangered species list in 1999, although they remain listed in New York State, where 160 birds were released. Something shifted upon their return. Their old cliffside nesting sites along the Hudson River Valley and elsewhere still existed, but many falcons chose the city instead. Immigrant birds had come to the city of immigrants.
From the observation platform, we continue to watch songbirds pass high above us as crowds of tourists maneuver slowly along the perimeter, taking photographs and pointing, speaking in French, Japanese, Italian and other tongues. Some pause by our group, eavesdropping, as DeCandido points to where peregrines have come to nest in the city—on the nearby MetLife building, the New York Hospital, the Riverside Church, the George Washington Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge and the 55 Water Street building. They nest 693 feet up the distant Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that’s lit up in a twinkling string of green sparkles and have taken over an osprey nest in the darkness of Jamaica Bay.
At least 17 breeding pairs live within the borders of the five boroughs, the densest known population of urban peregrines in the world. The new generation adapted to the concrete canyons, towering bridge supports and steel skyscrapers of Gotham, redefining falcon habitat. It was as though we had built them a new world, with perfect nest sites—high, adjacent to wide expanses of open flyways for hunting and populated with an endless, year-round food source in the form of pigeons, another cliff-dwelling bird that finds our urban environment so pleasing. A biologist from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection makes annual rounds to the peregrine sites, banding young and building sheltering boxes wherever they have chosen to nest.
The Empire State Building granted peregrines the additional gift of a nighttime hunting perch, smack in the middle of one of North America's busiest bird migration routes. The building's lights were the brightest continuous source of artificial light in the world when they were installed in 1956. Today, the illumination makes it easy for peregrines to spot their migrating prey. It’s happening elsewhere. Peregrine falcons have been observed hunting at night in England and France, Berlin, Warsaw and Hong Kong, and off brightly lit oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Many bird populations are plummeting because of habitat loss and other environmental threats, but peregrine falcons are thriving, brought back from the brink, returned, reintroduced and reimagined back into existence through science and passion.
DeCandido didn’t start coming to the Empire State Building in search of falcons, though. He came to count songbirds—dead ones. Generally, birds get the sky and we get the earth, but sometimes there’s a mix-up, and the two territories overlap. One morning in 1948, 750 lifeless birds were found at the base of the Empire State Building. “Mist Bewilders Migrators… Tiny Bodies Litter 5th Avenue,” announced The New York Times.
That was a record night, but every day, dead birds are found at the base of buildings. A recent study by New York City Audubon estimated that 80,000 birds perish each year in the five boroughs because of collisions with buildings. Ornithologist Daniel Klem of Muhlenberg College, who has studied bird collisions for more than 20 years, estimates that hundreds of millions of birds die each year from striking glass windows—more avian deaths than are caused by cats, cars and power lines combined. Compared with building strikes, peregrines and other avian predators barely make a dent in overall songbird populations.
DeCandido first went to the Empire State Building in the fall of 2004, prepared to witness migrants crashing into windows. Instead, over 77 nights, he and his team of volunteers found only four dead birds and discovered a miraculous New York nighttime bird-watching site. They checked off 10,000 birds on their clipboards that fall—Baltimore orioles and gray catbirds and black-throated blue warblers. Chimney swifts and common nighthawks. Great egrets and night herons. Gulls and geese. A saw-whet owl and a short-eared owl. And other flying creatures, such as little brown bats and red bats, snatching moths and dragonflies. On more than half of the nights, they were accompanied by a peregrine falcon, hunting by the bright lights of the big city.
DeCandido’s work confirmed what Klem, the Audubon researchers and others were finding—that most bird fatalities happen at the lower levels of structures, especially when glass reflects landscaping and creates the lethal illusion of a resting spot. Landscape architects are beginning to take placement of ornamental plants into consideration to minimize this deception while design firms continue to develop a type of glass that looks to a bird, in one architect’s words, “as solid as stone.”
Fifteen minutes after our first sighting, the falcon returns to lie in wait on the northern side of the spire, with a clear view of incoming bird traffic. A few minutes later, a small form approaches with the flap-flap-glide movement of a songbird. As it appears within our halo of light, the falcon charges from its station, circling wide and then closing in fast on the unsuspecting creature. The peregrine comes down hard on the bird, which drops straight down as though injured, but the falcon swerves off, talons empty, returning to another perch overhead. The smaller bird, DeCandido explains, folded its wings and dropped to escape.
The falcon has speed, but this alone doesn’t secure dinner. Persistence is a requirement as well. Every few minutes, the falcon launches itself after a weary migrant, but each time, the hunter misses its quarry. Then DeCandido declares a faraway, lit-up speck to be an approaching rose-breasted grosbeak. The small bird veers east as the peregrine rises, for the sixth time, both disappearing behind the spire. We lose sight of them on the far side, gauging their speed and waiting for them to emerge on the other side of the tower. They don’t. Just the falcon appears, landing briefly back on its perch. “Did he get it?” someone asks, necks straining, eyes glued to binoculars in a hard squint. And then the falcon lifts off, and we can see the limp bird held tightly in its grasp as it drops down to the northwest, toward the Riverside Church perhaps, wings arched, gliding down to some favorite plucking post to eat.
The peregrines have returned. To North America, and—unexpectedly—to many of the cityscapes of the world. When it comes to bird habitat, humans have destroyed more than we have created, but for the falcons we have inadvertently made a nice home. Songbirds pass overhead as the night goes on, but the small beings can no longer hold our attention. It’s not even 9 p.m., early for us city folk, so we return to the sidewalk realm of humans and down farther into the subway tunnels below, leaving the secret avian superhighway above to carry on its mysterious motions of life and death, the top of the food chain that has returned, reigning over all.
Identified Nov. 1988 as an interior house post by Susan Rowley, Curator, Arctic & Public Archaeology, Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.
This pole or house post appears to be the one on the right in engraving shown on p. 100 and captioned "The Indian Department, in the United States Government Building", in Norton, Frank H., and Frank Leslie. 1877. Frank Leslie's historical register of the United States Centennial Exposition, 1876. Embellished with nearly eight hundred illustrations drawn expressly for this work by the most eminent artists in America. Including illustrations and descriptions of all previous International exhibitions. New York: Frank Leslie's Pub. House. The pole on the left in the same engraving is E54298. On p. 106 of the publication, in the section on "Indian Curiosities", the text identifies both "totem posts" in the illustration as belonging to the "Mukah" (i.e. Makah) Indians. Note that the Library of Congress has a copy of this engraving and a thumbnail image is shown on their website here: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2005689180/ . E54298 had been identified in the records as Haida, but it is probable that E54301 is Makah. If it is Makah, it is also possible its catalogue number originally was E20901, rather than E54301, and it would have come as part of Accession 4730. (It is also possible this pole was catalogued twice; once when it first came into the collections, and then again later in 1882 with a group of other previously uncatalogued poles.) Swan identifies E20901 as a large Makah carved image. Swan's invoice notation (in accession papers for Acc. 4730) for the cost of the large shipping box used to ship E20901 notes that the box made to ship that artifact, along with 2 paddles, a bird spear, and a cane, was 11 feet long.
This interior house post is similar in style to the ones depicted in a drawing/watercolor done by James G. Swan of a Makah house interior titled "Colchote's Lodge. Neah Bay", dating to March 20, 1861; see the one on the left with the striped face which appears to match this house post. This drawing is illustrated on p. 81 of Miles, George A., James Gilchrist Swan, Franz Stenzel, and Kathryn M. Stenzel. 2003. James Swan, cha-tic of the Northwest Coast: drawings and watercolors from the Franz & Kathryn Stenzel collection of western American art. New Haven, Conn: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University. The drawing and interior house posts are also discussed on pp. 23-24 of this publication, which notes that the one on the left in the drawing was shaped by a Ditidaht/Nitinaht artist from Vancouver Island.
Aaron Glass, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the Bard Graduate Center, 2012, doubts the Haida or Kwakiutl attributions that had been applied to this object. Robin Wright, Emerita Curator of Native American Art, Burke Museum, 2013, also does not think this is Haida or Kwakiutl: "Based on it's style alone, it would either be Nuu-chah-nulth [Nootka] or Makah. The face has a long sloping under brow plane and the eye is flat on the cheek plane, which are characteristics shared by the Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth. So, [definitely] not Kwakwaka'wakw [Kwakiutl] or Haida. If Swan collected it, then Makah would be a likely source, although they in turn may have received it from a Nuu-chah-nulth carver." Wright in 2018 also noted that she believes this house post is the one shown in the drawing/watercolor done by James G. Swan of a Makah house interior titled "Colchote's Lodge. Neah Bay", dating to March 20, 1861 (see above).
The name alone makes people curious about Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump and a visit to this United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site outside of Fort Macleod teaches visitors about the ingenuity of local hunters, who used the site as a hunting ground for thousands of years.
Not too far from Fort Macleod is the Waterton Lakes National Park. Home to the oldest rock in the Canadian Rocky Mountains (at 1.5 billion years old), Cameron Falls in Waterton Village is a draw for both its geological interest and sheer beauty.
Alberta has a number of wildlife conservation and rehabilitation facilities, such as the Birds of Prey Centre, which houses the hawks, falcons, eagles and owls of the province on a 70-acre portion of wetlands. Open May to September, the centre offers flying demonstrations, allows visitors to handle the birds and builds back populations through captive breeding of species like the endangered burrowing owl. Other options include the Calgary or Valley Zoos, Sea Life Caverns, Reptile World, Discovery Wildlife Park, Ellis Bird Farm and the Medicine River Wildlife Centre.
If your tastes tend toward the more peculiar, Alberta is home to a surprising assortment of the world's "largest," including: The World's Largest Badminton Racket, Beaver, Bee, Chuckwagon, Dinosaur, Easter Egg, Mushroom, Oil Lamp, Piggy Bank, Putter, Sundial, and Western Boot.
One of the most striking buildings in Vancouver is Canada Place, with its sail-like structures stretched toward the sky. Canada Place is a mixed-use building on the waterfront that serves as the home of the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre, The Pan Pacific Hotel, the cruise ship terminal, the CN IMAX Theatre, and various offices. As Vancouver prepares to host the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, it is not only sprucing up existing amenities, but building new facilities in the area, like the recently opened Whistler Olympic Park, so keep an eye out for new points of interest.
In Victoria, the late 19th century Legislative Buildings sit on the Inner Harbour and illuminate the area every evening with 3,333 lights. Tours of the Francis Rattenbury-designed buildings are available at no cost, offering visitors a closer look at the murals, plaster work, stained glass, architectural details and the grounds surrounding the buildings.
In downtown Winnipeg sits Dalnavert, the home of Sir Hugh John Macdonald, the son of Canada's first Prime Minister. The Queen Anne-style house was built in 1895 and narrowly escaped demolition in 1970 when it was saved, then carefully restored, by the Manitoba Historical Society.
The Forks, where the Assiniboine River meets the Red River, has been a Winnipeg gathering spot for six thousand years and today it takes the form of a commercial, recreational and educational destination with a market, restaurants, attractions, an amphitheater, garden and riverwalk. The Johnston Terminal, also at The Forks, served as a cold storage railway warehouse in its former life and now houses specialty shops, offices and dining options.
Visitors may be surprised to learn that New Brunswick has quite a few wineries scattered around the province. Belliveau Orchards and Bourgeois Farms outside of Moncton give visitors a literal taste of the area's bounty—icewine, flat wine, sparkling wine, juices and specialty wines are made at Bourgeois Farms and other area producers include the Magnetic Hill Winery, Belleisle Vineyards Inc., the Gagetown Cider Company and Waterside Farms Cottage Winery.
Newfoundland and Labrador
The Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) Botanical Garden showcases native and naturalized plant species. Five nature trails onsite allow guests to wander through a 110 acre managed preserve and nearby gardens include a cottage garden, rock gardens, shade garden, medicinal garden and compost demonstration garden.
Wandering around the towns of the province, visitors will be struck by the cheerful, candy colored saltbox houses lining the streets. Beautifully built churches display the talents of craftsman; St. John the Baptist Basilica in particular serves as a lasting example of early 19th century design. Built over a period of 21 years, the cathedral was consecrated in 1855.
Following the discovery of diamonds in Canada in 1991, diamond mines have sprouted in the Northwest Territories—the Diavik Diamond Mine, the EKATI Diamond Mine and the Snap Lake Diamond Project, which is owned by De Beers. Although percentage-wise, Canada is not a large-scale source of diamonds at this time, some predict that the area could produce 12 to 15 percent of the world's diamonds once all area mines are up and running—which would make Canada the third largest source worldwide.
Primarily known for his accomplishments while living in America, Alexander Graham Bell spent many years living on Baddeck Bay in Nova Scotia. Now home to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site of Canada, the complex features photographs, displays, artifacts, replicas and films tracing the life and work of the famed inventor.
In Upper Economy, Nova Scotia, sits That Duchman's Farm, where owners Maja and Willem van den Hoek produce farmstead gouda, tend heritage animals, and maintain extensive grounds, walking trails and waterways for visitors to explore.
Cape Dorset, the Capital of Inuit Art, sits in eastern Nunavut and local artists are revered for their skill with ancient arts. Napatchie Pootoogookwas, who focuses on prints and drawings, Pudlalik Shaa, who works on stone carvings, and Alasua Sharky, whose preferred medium for carving is stone, but also works with antler and whalebone, are a few of the town's more prominent artisans.
Inukshuk, which can be found throughout much of Canada, are directional markers built of large stones and abstractly human-like. The largest of these structures can be found in Shomberg, Ontario, but they are primarily located in the Arctic regions where they were historically used by the Inuit to convey information about the best routes, places to camp, dangerous waterways and other vital details. On a more spiritual level, inukshuks protect travelers on their journey.
Toronto's offerings are nearly endless, with a well-developed waterfront, the St. Lawrence market with more than 60 specialty food vendors, and—of course—the CN Tower, which is likely Canada's most recognized man-made attraction. The Tower has four levels of viewing stations—the lowest (at 1,122 feet) with a glass floor and outdoor observation deck, the next (1,136 feet) with a café and indoor observation deck, the third (1,150 feet) with a fine dining restaurant featuring 360 degree views of the city and a floor that rotates once every 72 minutes and the SkyPod deck at 1,465 feet.
Prince Edward Island
The smallest of Canada's provinces played a fundamental role in the creation of the country, as Province House in Charlottetown hosted the 1864 Charlottetown Conference, where the idea for a united Canada was developed. Visitors can explore the house, watch a film on the conference, and enjoy historical reenactments.
Prince Edward Island also has quite a few scenic drives that take guests on a picturesque tour of the island; visitors should also consider driving through some of PEI's heritage red clay roads—but be aware that you are sharing the roads with farmers and their large equipment and that these roads are quick to become muddy and difficult to navigate in the spring when the snow melts.
Montréal is bursting with spectacular examples of architecture such as Olympic Stadium, Place Ville Marie, Environment Canada's Biosphère and, perhaps most famous, the Notre-Dame Basilica, a Gothic revival masterwork built between 1824 and 1829. Other worthwhile stops and views include the Mount Royal Park, the Jacques-Cartier Bridge and Saint Joseph's Oratory
In Quebec City, La Citadelle of Quebec provides visitors a glimpse into the military past of the area. La Citadelle remains an active military facility, so all tours are guided, and visitors will learn about the fortress and its history; guests may also explore the Governor General's residence, which overlooks the Saint Lawrence River and has served as the second home to every Governor General of Canada since 1872. During the summer months, the morning Changing of the Guard can be viewed, as well as the evening Retreat.
This one might not be visible from space, but the Great Wall of Saskatchewan near Smiley is quite a feat in its own right. The Wall was started by Albert Johnson in 1962 and continued to grow over the years as rocks from neighboring farms were added to the project. Completed in 1991, it was built without any cement or mortar.
Moose Jaw, where dozens of murals adorn the fronts and sides of buildings in the downtown corridor, is also home to two fascinating, multimedia tunnel tours. The town used to have an extensive underground system used for various purposes—both mundane and nefarious—and visitors can now participate in the "Passage to Fortune" tour, which gives guests an idea of the life of a Chinese immigrant in the late 19th century, and "The Chicago Connection," which looks as Moose Jaw's role in supplying liquor to the United States during Prohibition.
Don't miss the views from the Top of the World Highway, which runs from Dawson City to Alaska—a narrow, meandering road that takes drivers on a spectacular journey through unspoiled Canada.
And while most travelers buy souvenirs, for those more inclined to leave something behind, there is the Sign Post Forest in Watson Lake. The forest began simply enough, by Carl Lindley, an American Army man working on the Alaska highway; Lindley missed his home in Danville, IL, so he posted a sign in 1942, pointing in the direction of Danville and listing the mileage to make it there. In the decades since, more than 10,000 signs have been posted—pointing toward the hometowns of so many visitors.
The Second Opinion roundtable was filmed with a special 360-degree camera. To follow along with the discussion in the video above, use your cursor to click and drag in the direction of the panelist who is speaking or click on the directional arrows in the top left corner of the video player. Unfortunately Safari doesn't support 360 video. Please use Chrome or the Youtube app on an iPhone.
David Skorton: Hello, everyone. Thanks so much for joining us for this first session of Second Opinion, an ongoing series where the Smithsonian is attempting to convene conversations among interesting people with interesting points of view and interesting experiences, on issues that we believe are of national importance. For our conversation today we're going to address an issue that is of concern to all of us and each of us, the state of our planet. Given the impact on the planet, of the rise of the human species, the dawn of agriculture, increasing land and water use, emerging infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, climate change, species extinction, and other challenges, is there a reason to be optimistic about the future of our planet, and our place on it?
Will our species have the ideas and means, and the will, to successfully adapt to this upcoming era of change, and to alter its course for the better? Here to discuss this question with me is a very esteemed group of interesting people. I'm David Skorton, I'm the secretary of the Smithsonian. And going to my left, I will introduce the different people around here. I'm going to tell you a little bit about how you can learn more about the wonderful work that they've done. I'll tell you that in just a moment. To my immediate left is Denise G. Fairchild, who's president of the Emerald Cities Collaborative. It's a national nonprofit organization working to ensure equity inclusion, while building resilient green and healthy economies.
To her left is Steve Monfort, who is the John and Adrienne Mars Director and chief scientist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. And Steve is also the deputy director of the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park. To his left is Mary Evelyn Tucker. She's co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, where she teaches in the joint master's program between the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the Divinity School. Next to Mary Evelyn is Anson Hines, who goes by Tuck, and he's the director of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
Next to Tuck is Catrina Rorke, who is the senior fellow for energy policy at the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank, advancing solutions to complex public policy problems. And between Catrina and me is Jedediah Purdy, who goes by Jed, professor of law at Duke University, and the author of After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene. Now, I welcome you to dig deeper into the individual works of these panels, which can be found on our Second Opinion website.
Well, thank you very much everyone for being a part of this. And I also want to point out that we have an audience of very interesting people as well all around us. And you will have a chance perhaps to hear some of their questions later on. So, let's start by a quote from Catrina. And this quote that Catrina has written, "The globe is indeed warming, and we are largely responsible."
Well, the Smithsonian Institution a few years ago issued a statement to that same effect, saying, "The global climate is warming as a result of human activities." Yet despite this general overall scientific consensus, there remains continuing need to understand more about the exact details of what the warming of the planet will mean for the world and human civilization, and over what time period.
Tuck, I'm going to throw the first one to you. Tell us a bit about what you see as the challenges ahead, for getting a better understanding of the impact of this undeniable climate change? Tuck?
Tuck Hines: Thanks. It's very clear, the science is very clear, that the planet is warming, and that this is a result of rising carbon dioxide, which has a fingerprint of coming from burning of fossil fuels. There's no doubt about that. The trend for that has been well established and is projected into the future. What's important to understand is the role of science and the uncertainty of the implications for that in our social and economic systems, and the interactions of the many factors that that enormous change to the planet is causing. Interactions with food production systems, with weather, with plant growth, with rising sea level, all of those things vary enormously across the planet, and interact with each other.
And there's a real need for research to understand those interactive factors as an important next step, not in denying the positive direction of the climate warming, but the consequences of that, and how that will play out.
David Skorton: Thanks a lot, Tuck. Speaking of research and studies in the human psyche, there are numerous psychological studies that suggest, and somewhat paradoxically, that the more evidence people see in certain situations that a particular belief they hold is incorrect, the more they may actually dig in and hold on to the idea that that belief is true. Denise, I want to challenge you with this one, if I could? What can you tell us, from your career, are the challenges you've seen getting large groups of individuals, entire societies even, to change their minds about a particular aspect of the world, such as climate change, and further change their behavior?
Denise Fairchild: Well, thank you for the question. Actually, I do believe we're seeing sort of a mind shift, an idea shift happening in America, if not the globe. I mean, to the extent that we have had the Paris Climate Accord, for example, that represents nations around the world, for the first time, recognizing that there is a problem. [Ed. Note: This conversation took place before President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Accord.] That's been 20, 25 years in the make to get to that point, that nation states are recognizing that there's a problem, something to do about it. The fact that we can actually see low-income communities of color ... now, often the environmental movement is seen as a middle-class, white movement. But to this day, all the research points to the fact that low-income communities of color care about, and want to do something about, climate change, even greater than middle-class, white communities.
It means that these are very fundamental issues that people care about. I think what needs to happen at this stage is sort of figuring out, what are the tools that people need to actually make a difference? So people are doing things, like making their homes more energy-efficient. People are moving towards solar energy. Folks are preserving and improving how they conserve water, and they don't turn on their washing machines in the middle of the day, or their dishwashers. So just gradually the knowledge is disseminating across the globe and particularly in the United States, where people are making individual behavioral changes. The thing that I think is a fundamental challenge, however, is looking at the structural causes of climate change, and how we get people to understand that we are part of the problem in terms of mass production and mass consumption.
You talked about greenhouse gas emissions and carbon and the burning of fossil fuels. Well, that's fueled by an economic model that supports an extractive economy in digging up the oils and all the fossil fuels. And the question becomes, how do we get out of the cultural mindset that we have to have more stuff? And we have to produce more stuff, and we have to consume more stuff, that just continues to drive the conditions that cause climate change. That's the fundamental issue, that's the behavioral changes that need to be made at the personal level.
Often the environmental movement is seen as a middle-class, white movement. But to this day, all the research points to the fact that low-income communities of color care about, and want to do something about, climate change, even greater than middle-class, white communities.
David Skorton: It’s a tall order; it sounds right to me, and I'm sure that we can solve this problem during our discussion.
Denise Fairchild: Absolutely. There's no question.
David Skorton: Following along on to what you mentioned about the role of individuals, some people continue to argue that the U.S. government ... the government itself, the federal government, can and should play a greater role in helping to direct large-scale initiatives for the greater good in a whole variety of areas. Among them building infrastructure, addressing social inequalities, undertaking scientific research. Catrina, you've worked a lot in that area, the interface between individuals and the government, what are the challenges in your observation, in getting governments to address the looming changes ahead? And while you're thinking about that, should any governmental initiative be at the federal level, or should it be at the local level, or state level, or both?
Catrina Rorke: That’s a complicated and maybe loaded question. I think that policies are best designed by people closest to problems. So, in this pending debate over infrastructure spending, we're seeing some contest between who's going to make decisions about how any future dollars get spent. Will it be at the federal level, or are we going to devolve decision-making to the cities? I think it's a nice way of looking at public policy problems generally, because in individual communities we can identify problems that we find to be more pressing much more immediately and with better data and narratives than a federal government could. I do think that finding the right stages of implementation for policy decisions is really important, even for subjects like global climate change, which affect us as a global population, and not individual populations.
But I also think it's important to note that the government is not the root of cures for every public policy problem. Often we find cures in innovations in individual communities, and the creativity of humans is what leads to solutions, not the ingenuity of a bureaucrat. And so one of the things that we work on at R Street is, how do we identify a way to make the footprint of government small enough to allow this intellectual curiosity to lead us to solutions at the same time that we don't ignore significant market failures, where there is a compelling need for government to intercede?
Without answering your question specifically, because I think that would take about six hours of conversation, I think what we're looking at in the subject of climate change, but in these global problems more broadly, is a way to mobilize individuals and communities, and then take that information and do great things with it. Rather than having decisions come from some centralized power.
Government is not the root of cures for every public policy problem. Often we find cures in innovations in individual communities, and the creativity of humans is what leads to solutions, not the ingenuity of a bureaucrat.
David Skorton: Very, very interesting. And as a lifelong bureaucrat I take that in a very positive sense. I love that title. Following along your line of thinking, it's been suggested over the years that sometimes individuals don't always make the right decision in their own interest, even if that decision is made close to the action. And in the ’60s ... I'm looking around the table here. Some of you may still remember the ’60s perhaps. Tuck, put your hand down. In the ’60s, the ecologist Garrett Hardin, you may remember this, published the essay on the “Tragedy of the Commons,” which has been used in many different areas of endeavor and thought. And he pointed out, for those who are just learning about this, that there are some situations where people, even acting apparently in their own self-interest, will engage in behaviors that in the end collectively affect their own self-interest in the wrong direction, negatively.
And he used as an example shepherds who were having their sheep graze and eventually perhaps overgraze and destroying an area, making it barren, and therefore hurting their own self-interest. You could argue, I suppose, that the current dilemma that we're in, in terms of the climate, is another example of a commons, where people and nations act in their own interest, apparently, but eventually you wind up creating a result that is much worse for them in the end. Jed, I'm wondering if you could tell us what you think are some of the challenges in overcoming this, if it really is under tragedy of the commons, what's your thought on that?
Jedediah Purdy: David, thank you. I think it is a commons tragedy. I think it is the largest and most general that we've ever faced. It threatens to be the commons tragedy that ate the world really. And precisely because it's so global, I think it confounds many of our ordinary expectations about how we ought to address even the most complex problems. Catrina, I think of what you just said about the need for solutions to come from those who are closest to the problem. One of the characteristics, I think, of global climate change is it can often be difficult to see who it is exactly, who is closest to the problem, right, in its various stages and its complex interrelations.
I'd also just say, and one further note of piling on pessimism, before I try to turn a little bit constructive, that it's not just a collective action problem across individuals or across nations in the present, which is clearly right. It's also a commons tragedy across generations. Because each generation can in a narrow, rational sense act in its own interest, while putting the cost of dealing with the consequences of what it's done on those who come after. So in that sense, the people making the decisions are always the ones who can least be counted on to do the right thing. I think of this as pointing in two directions. On one level I want to sort of echo and amplify and generalize what Denise said a little bit ago, about the need for change on the level of behavior and even consciousness. This has to invite an answer where we change our understanding of what problems are ours, you know, and what interests are ours?
One of the things I find hopeful in the history of environmental thought and action is that it's often involved people re-imagining their place in the world. Revisiting the question, who are you connected to? Which problems are yours? Is it in your interest to save something that you can't immediately use? And we think about these questions, we actually live these questions very differently than people once did. That seems hopeful. But I would also say, and I don't think anyone has said the contrary, but I just emphasize, changes of consciousness on the individual level have to be turned into legal and political structures that people can rely on, and live by. That was the conclusion of Garrett Hardin’s famous article that you began with, that we needed what he called mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon, to control access to the commons.
So I think a political expression and reinforcement of a changing consciousness will be equally important.
David Skorton: Thoughts about that? Yes, Mary Evelyn?
Mary Evelyn Tucker: If I could build on that? Thank you.
David Skorton: Please.
Mary Evelyn Tucker: And for these other comments as well. I think this is very critical, because the way I would see it is, we have a great value in the last 200-plus years of Enlightenment thinking, of individualism, liberty, equality and fraternity. But individualism and innovation is terrific, and Catrina, I agree with that. But I think we're also at a point of hyper-individualism, where we haven't really acknowledged what is a community-building way of being in the world? This is one of the great characteristics of humans, we can build communities. So I think we need from individualism to interdependence, independence to interdependence, from equality to equity, about [how] these issues have affected so many people, Native Americans, African-Americans, Latinos out of the picture.
And fraternity, we really need to claim a grounds that says: We are in this together, for children, for inter-generations and so on. And I think that is one of our greatest challenges. That we'll have consequences for structures and politics, but that the individual sphere is, I think, being almost suffocated by hyper-consumption and hyper-individualism. We yearn to be part of something larger, and call to something larger, which is why this conversation is so important.
We really need to claim a grounds that says: We are in this together, for children, for inter-generations. And I think that is one of our greatest challenges.
—Mary Evelyn Tucker
Denise Fairchild: And I would also suggest that this notion of the commons is nothing new. I think this hyper-individualism is something that's only been within the makings of the Western economies, and then we can look to indigenous cultures where the commons was how people lived. We look at our Native American community, for example. They say you make decisions, Jed, to your point, based on seven generations. Two in the past, the current generation, and four generations going forward. Which gives you a sense of the inter-generational nature of this, that we are one, and part of an ecosystem, and we cannot just see ourselves as consuming or producing for me and myself and mine.
But that we are making decisions for the globe. For the part that we have in the entire ecosystem. So, I think there are places that there's a sense of optimism. Places where we can look, cultures that we can look to, that really give us the pathway towards a different kind of way to live in this climate challenge that we're facing.
David Skorton: Very interesting. And is it a practical thing, or do we have a moral obligation, would you say, looking at you, Mary Evenlyn, to think about future generations? Are we just being pragmatic, or is there a moral aspect to it?
Mary Evelyn Tucker: Well, pragmatism has its role, for sure. But I think that the moral call, and I know Jed would share this, and many of us here, I think is very profound, and your point to other cultures. I study Confucianism, the oldest ongoing culture and civilization in the world, now in its hyper-development phase. But the idea of Confucianism is, even the character for the individuals is "an individual in relationship" to others. And the idea, even for public service, is you're doing this for the common good. It's a completely different way of being human in the world. And there's a revival of Confucianism for reasons of over-consumption, over-individualism, and a spiritual vacuum. So in short, I think there is a complex multi-faceted moral call at this moment in human history that needs to draw on other cultures, other religions, other peoples and races and so on, to build what I would call a multicultural, but planetary civilization, for the future. I think we can do that.
Jedediah Purdy: If I might just add one note to what Mary Evelyn says, the distinction between pragmatic and moral motivations is useful, but in some ways it's also an artifact of our rather individualistic conception of what it is to act as a person.
David Skorton: These are the points I was hoping you would bring out, and I'd appreciate my other colleagues bringing out points that I'd like you to bring out.
The last thing you just said, thinking about the planet broadly, I'd like to talk a little bit about species beyond the human species. It's been suggested that one of the biggest impacts of climate change, some of the things that Tuck said we have to pay attention to, is the growing extinction of other species around the globe. Steve, you have spent a very distinguished career working in this area, but for those of us who haven't thought about this, why worry about it? Why does a diverse population of animals or plants matter to us or to the Earth in general?
Steve Monfort: I think it's a great question. I often, since climate change came onto the horizon over the last decade or so, and was in front of everybody's mind, it sort of cast a pall, I think, over everyone feeling there's this sense of gloom-and-doom, and what can I do about the climate? What can I do about the atmosphere, and so forth?
But there's another effect, and the effect has been that all of the funding, a lot of the attention shifted away from biodiversity and functioning ecosystems to now a sense of "What do we do about the climate?" I guess I feel there's a very likely chance that ultimately, humans will figure out the climate situation. It will eventually be solved. It's an existential problem. And if, say it's solved and we do that, but then we turn around and say, "What happened to the biodiversity? Where's everything gone?" And the reason it matters is because everything we require as a species is derived in some way or another from biological diversity. And for that I mean things like the air, and water and food and fuel and fiber, and all of these things.
The conservation community has been trying very hard to make an economic case for "What are the benefits, nature's benefits," and this sort of thing. And there's certainly a good case to be made for that. The fact is, our society would collapse without biodiversity. We wouldn't continue to survive. But there are other elements of biodiversity that provide us with value, and that's everything from spiritual and cultural value to entertainment, to all of these sorts of things. Most of us, if I make the argument to a politician, I say, "You care about prosperity and security, and those sorts of issues, well then you should care about biodiversity." But if I ask most people, I think there's an innate connection people have with nature. I don't think you can separate, you shouldn't separate humans, from biodiversity. We're part of that.
So there's this part of being human that is tied to biodiversity, and to the Earth and to nature and the sense of wildness that we think or hope that exists in the world. And so I think there's an idea maybe we could manufacture our way through an absence of biodiversity. We could use all kinds of new engineering technologies and do something, but what would our life be like? What would the quality of the human experience be like without biodiversity?
So, I think there's different arguments you can make. Fundamentally, though, I think it's more than just the economic argument. There's an intrinsic value in nature that sometimes gets ignored. In the conservation community, people are arguing with one another. Should we save nature because of its economic value in a landscape of "in the Anthropocene" or is there a place for just nature as an intrinsic right? Do all other living things on Earth have the right to exist and to function without human interference or damage?
It matters from across the spectrum, but I worry that we forget biological diversity. This idea that we're going to bring back species from the dead that are extinct, and so on, it's mostly a fantasy. So, we need work at both fronts. Let's fix climate change, work on that, but at the same time let's not lose these functioning ecosystems that humans require for their survival.
I don't think you can separate—you shouldn't separate—humans from biodiversity. We're part of that.
David Skorton: I think some earlier point that you were making about indigenous cultures living that philosophy every day is very important.
Steve Monfort: There was something else that was being discussed before. When you talk about individuals trying to take action and do things, most people that I've been talking to, we are increasingly bludgeoning them with gloom-and-doom, and we're not giving them any solutions. They keep saying, "What can I possibly do?" Well what challenge, if you talk about the atmosphere, what more ephemeral thing are you asking people to do? They can make a choice. You can do all kinds of things personally, but at some level, I feel the right to a functioning atmosphere, clean air, somebody said recently, "To me, that's a basic human right. Clean air and clean water and food, those to me should be basic human rights."
What are we going to do about maintaining those rights? There needs to be some role for the regulatory state, for governments. I think of California. They just went through their drought, and so they had mandatory water restrictions, and everybody went along with that because they knew, you run out of water we're in big trouble. California is also an example of how they've regulated emissions. They've just said, "You're not going to have a car here in this state unless it meets these requirements."
So I do think there's both individual action, but also governments have to act for the benefit of everyone. So I think it's both. You have to have individual choice, and you have to have good governance and good decision-making.
Bill McDonough was at the Earth Optimism Summit and he said, "CO2 is the pollutant, and it's going into the atmosphere, and how would you think that people in Flint, Michigan, would feel if you said, 'You have lead in your water and it's at 100, let's say, units, and we're going to reduce it down to 40.' Would you feel good about drinking water that only has 40 parts of lead in it instead of 100? It's the same way with the atmosphere and carbon dioxide." Anyway, if people looked at CO2 as a pollutant that was affecting their health, they might think of it differently.
David Skorton: In the late '50s, the environment in Los Angeles was tough. As an asthmatic kid, there were many days where they said kids shouldn't go out to play, and so on. And a lot of changes were made predominantly through state-level regulations, although there was of course the Clean Air Act.
I stepped in front of you Jed, who wants to say something, but I can't resist asking Catrina where she comes on this issue, because threading that needle of how much to bring in regulation, how much to use a carrot and stick and so on, how much should be relegated to individuals, municipal, state, versus federal? It's one that we don't agree on as a country, and I'm curious, Catrina. Then I promise, Jed, I'll stop stepping on your minds and let you come in.
Catrina Rorke: I think that we've touched on two parts. This sort of individual call to action, "What can an individual do," and "What can the government do?" I think this individual conversation is a really important one to have about how you feel like you participate in your community, however broadly you might define it. But everybody on Earth taking shorter, colder showers is not going to solve climate change.
And then you can look at government policy, and government policy is maybe this opposite mechanism that dictates which actions are preferable or not allowable. Those instruments can be helpful. You can adapt them in a variety of ways, like market mechanisms to reduce acid rain were obviously quite helpful, and came in at a relatively low cost for all the achievements we made.
But between those two is the marketplace. And every day, trillions of decisions are made in the marketplace. And right now, the vast majority of them don't think about climate change as a problem. They don't think about global problems as a problem. When you buy a pack of gum, you're not thinking about the supply chain. When you take the bus, you're not thinking about "Was this bus manufactured according to the values that I hold?" So we're in a marketplace where we're making decisions without accounting for these problems, and that marketplace itself can be constrained, not necessarily by the individual side, but by the government side. And we're seeing that right now.
So, I do a lot of work with distributed generation, and that policy is largely set at the state level. And there are very many states that don't allow people to produce electric power on their roofs and then sell it to market, or won't allow a company, like let's say a big box store like a Walmart or a Target, to cover their roofs in solar panels and profit that way. That's a government policy problem.
So we know that companies want cheap power. We know that that technology exists, and yet public policy stands in the way. And so I think that we need to maybe step back and consider when we're thinking about public policy strategies to combat any number of problems, what's the natural limit of what public policy can do? And how do we sort of induce the marketplaces that we would prefer, by mobilizing individual action and collective action? I think that we leave this part out too often, and that we count on sort of individual compunction or the power of the state, when the reality is that the solutions always come from somewhere in the middle. How do we mobilize those solutions, I think, is a really interesting public policy to do.
David Skorton: I interrupted Jed then. And then we'll come to you next.
Jedediah Purdy: Generous of you, thanks. I just wanted to add to what Steve was saying, 'cause it was so engaging. The importance of other species, I think, goes to very deep questions about what could make life on Earth worthwhile, if we move away from ever accelerating accumulation and growth. There's this passage in Walden where Thoreau asks, "What greater miracle could there be than to look through each other's eyes, just for a moment?" Think of how true that is as between human beings and other species.
We're just beginning to understand what kinds of consciousness, what kinds of experience, what kinds of language and culture and memory we coexist with all over the world. And I think if we return ever to something that has more elements of certain kinds of traditional and indigenous practices, it will be through our increasing both scientific and cultural understanding of how many other kinds of consciousness we live here with, and how we can relate to them. We don't even understand what we're losing, in that sense. We're just beginning to understand it as it disappears. And it's not just a whole other world, it's dozens of hundreds of worlds that are coexisting here in our world.
We don't even understand what we're losing (in biodiversity). We're just beginning to understand it as it disappears. And it's not just a whole other world, it's dozens of hundreds of worlds that are coexisting here in our world.
David Skorton: Yeah, it's very very true. Denise, do you have something?
Denise Fairchild: This is a great conversation, and we could go on forever, but I do want to talk about the role of government, because I do believe the role of government is critical for mediating the climate change environment and helping individuals as well as markets perform and behave better. It's very clear that regulation is just one tool that government has to move markets, but the other, I think, is that it incentivizes markets to perform and to innovate, and to bring into the marketplace ways to think about bringing new technologies to the forum.
To the extent that today, because of investment and because of research and development, and new climate change technologies, we're seeing that renewable energy is cheaper than coal. I mean the business case now for renewable energy is clear, and the fossil fuel economy is struggling. I talk to our utility friends all the time. They said they were in an existential crisis. They know it. They have to figure out how to make the shift, because the bottom line is profit. The technologies are there and it's now profitable to go renewable.
So government has a role to incentivize the market to perform in different kinds of ways.
I'm also seeing, Catrina, the local communities like in Florida this last November election, where it's a very conservative environment that says "We want distributive energy." At the end of the day, they beat back state legislation advanced by utilities to prevent distributive energy. And the folks in that community says "No. We want state regulations." So even in a conservative setting, we're seeing the need for regulations and the desire for regulations in local communities.
And the last thing I'd say about that is "shareholders." I see, actually, the market performing very well and big business really clearly trying to improve their business services, their business products and practices to address sort of this new sense for having sort of a clean economy. And shareholders are looking at this from a risk analysis basis. "What's the risk if we don't fix climate change, and what profits are at risk in this sense?" So I do see that government has a role, and I do see the market is stepping into that role in a very proactive way, incentivized by government.
Tuck Hines: I agree with that. I think that there is a lot of opportunity for the broader standards to be arrived at by community, by government, but individuals will behave in their own best interests, and there's a diversity of interests out there, so the collective interface of that is important, of those differing opinions and values and wants and desires and solutions.
But there is a business approach. Business is not always the problem. It can also solve problems. It's a powerful force, and everybody needs to make a living. So the question is, can those be done in a way that's consistent with, and incentivized to, solving the problems. I think there are many examples of that. Certainly, renewable energy is a great example of that. But there are lots and lots of others.
David Skorton: Other thoughts you have, Mary Evelyn?
Mary Evelyn Tucker: Well this is a great discussion, and I appreciate the differing points of view. I want to come back, Jed thinks in this philosophical way, and I think with the world religions, a complement. And we've talked about ethics and so on, and you've said so beautifully, Steve, about how we value species not only in our own self-interest. Ecosystem services has developed a huge following, and partly because it's trying to speak to the market. You know it's very pragmatic. What's the value of the wetlands, and so on and so forth.
I love that you say we need intrinsic value. It's part of this conversation, and that means for species, clearly. It means for ecosystems, clearly. It means for what is a commons, and a common good. What I would suggest that we're in this exciting transition where we actually don't have a fully developed sense of ethics—the world's religions, by and large, apart from indigenous traditions as we've mentioned. My husband is a student of indigenous religions. But we don't have an ethics that is up to the task. So our cultures need to expand.
There's movements, of course, for environmental ethics, for eco-ethics, there's even a cosmological ethics, to say if we're part of the stars, that this whole universe and Earth system is something we've come out of and are responsible to. So I just wanted to put that into the conversation because I think it's a very exciting, creative, cultural opportunity to expand our thinking, expand our consciousness.
And certainly, there's parallels with environmental law. Thomas Barry, our teacher, was working on Earth jurisprudence. How do the rights of nature come into this? And I'll just end by saying it's quite astonishing that several rivers have been given rights of humans, including in New Zealand, thanks to the work of Maori and others, and two of the most sacred rivers in India. The Yamuna and the Ganges River now have rights as humans. So I think we're in this exciting moment of expansion of an ethical and moral sensibility that's grounded in the science that gives us that sense of the intricacy of ecosystems.
We're in this exciting transition where we actually don't have a fully developed sense of ethics ... So our cultures need to expand.
—Mary Evelyn Tucker
Denise Fairchild: Could I, David, ask a question?
David Skorton: Please. Anything.
Denise Fairchild: To what extent is religion, Christianity, particularly a part of the problem, in terms of how the Bible has said it's the rights of man to basically dominate, extract, exploit the environment. Is that real…
Mary Evelyn Tucker: It's not!
Denise Fairchild: Or is it not, you know?
Mary Evelyn Tucker: Such an important question. Part of this human-centered and "dominion" idea in Genesis. I would suggest, and this is what we've been trying to evoke, midwife, birth, a larger sensibility, if you will, among the world's religions, that says all of these traditions have changed over time.
They have expanded their understandings of their scriptures. So in the mid ’90s, we did conferences on all the world's religions, to begin to evoke this sense that "What are views of nature? What are environmental ethics?" And so on. Within Christianity specifically, while it has had this reputation of dominion vis-a-vis Genesis, there are astonishing theologians and ethicists who have moved this way beyond that particular idea. Stewardship, but even more than that, a sense of reverence for these ecosystems and species.
The books have exploded. On our website, the Forum on Religion and Ecology, there are statements of all the world's religions on this, but in particular, Christianity has opened the doors, I would say widely.
David Skorton: I want to think a little bit more about this communication. One thing that has been implied in the recent give-and-take we've had is interface between science and non-science areas. And Tuck will be surprised that we're going to quote from Sean McMahon, a scientist who works at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, which Tuck so ably leads. This is a quote from Sean: He said "It is sometimes more effective to convey an idea to society with art rather than with science."
I think it's true that visual art, performing arts, arts of all kinds, can connect in sort of a visceral way that sometimes just the presentation of facts doesn't get across. And so I want to throw this out to anybody and everybody in the panel. What are the challenges in leveraging what I'll call "culture"? Arts and other kinds of cultural uses to help people better understand the changes that are underway. What are the obstacles in getting a cultural message out? Not any particular cultural message, but messages in general. Any thoughts about this?
Denise Fairchild: Well I would just say that part of what I hope we're building is a movement. It's an environmental movement, it's a climate change movement. It's going to radically change how we live and what we value. And if you look at other movements, as in civil rights movement of the ’60s, and yes, I was around. I was one of those around at that period that culture was very critical to building and sustaining and growing the movement. It was freedom songs. It was the Black Arts movement at that time, in terms of the poets, the artwork, it was what actually energized people and gave them a sense of hope, as opposed to being pessimistic in the face of challenges, that it is the art, the culture, the music, that breeds life into the possibilities for change. And so I think it's a very critical part of a climate change movement to bring our artists and our culture into communicating values and ideas that are hard to dissect through scientists.
Mary Evelyn Tucker: I think there's no question, just building on that, that the arts are, I think, going to be one of the greatest change agents that we have. Music. I just wanted to bring back in … Paul Winter has done an earth mass at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. The animals come in. He's been doing this for 30 years. Thousands of people come to this. He also does a celebration of winter and summer solstice. It's extraordinary. The arts, we've got Andy Goldsworthy and many people doing amazing things. Film. The Environmental Film Festival here in the nation's capital, and we have one at Yale. We did a film on Journey of the Universe to tell the story of science for a larger audience, that evokes wonder and awe. I think we've got tremendous potential here, with the arts.
Tuck Hines: Art is often talked about as something over there that's on the wall or performed on stage. But I look at it more as it's our interaction with the environment. Architecture is a form of art.
[The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center] just got done building this fabulous new LEED Platinum building, only LEED Platinum building that the institution has. But you walk in, and the first thing that strikes you is not that it's so energy-efficient, and it has all these water cycling systems. But it's a fabulous building, and we put as much thought into the psychology of how that building was designed to promote the science and the teamwork that we do, and how it links to the outdoors, and all the functioning systems that are supporting in that as a continuum.
So landscape architecture and architecture, and the environmental interactions that we have around us, to me that's as important as the art that's on the wall. We have those things. Even some of our scientists do art. But it's an interactive thing, with us and the environment, and that's what motivates people in their daily lives as well.
Jedediah Purdy: I think that's just exactly right. There's this arresting passage late in Otto Leopold's classic work Sand County Almanac where he says, "The purpose of conservation policy is to breed a consciousness and a way of seeing that can appreciate the world in a new fashion." That is to say, our land use policy, our agriculture policy, our energy policy, they all have aesthetic and even moral dimensions. They shape the landscape and they shape the terms of experience where people will learn to relate to and value the landscape.
Steve Monfort: Environmental folks or people working in science usually have some innate interest in nature, so I've always thought there was very little separate between art and science, at least in the environmental sciences. And we all go to a place that we have some spiritual reaction. When I was young, we went to Yosemite every year. That's, to me, it's like a cathedral. It was an experience that I had that was very impactful. But when I try to remember it, I'm never going to remember it better than Ansel Adams' photographs, or I'm never going to probably visualize birds better than Audubon painted them, or talk about nature better than Thoreau.
And so, to me, those are ways for me to remember and to heighten my remembrance and how I value that in my consciousness. And so, those are touch-points for me. So when I see art that's about nature, it reinforces for me this intense emotional feeling that I have arrived. So I think it's a very powerful thing.
Catrina Rorke: I think art also has the power to tell many different stories at once, right? So, the Environmental Film Festival is a great example. You know, half of the movies could be about a changing climate, but from completely different perspectives!
And I think it helps us weigh how complex what we're trying to impact might be. It helps us approach complicated problems in a way that's relatable. And helps us, I hope, make individual choices, and collective choices so that we can gain a better perspective on what happens outside our own backyards. Yeah.
Mary Evelyn Tucker: I just wanted to mention ... Maybe you [Secretary Skorton] could comment, because you ... that environmental humanities within academia have really exploded on many campuses. We have over 100 classes on environmental humanities, across history and literature and the arts and film, and so on. And I think you've also worked on this with STEM and humanities.
David Skorton: Yeah, I mean Yale's been a great benchmark for the whole academic community in this regard. But if you look backwards in the world of higher education and learning in general, these disciplinary separations are relatively recent. And acquisition of knowledge and exploitation, and so on, whether for practical purposes or just to learn, used to be much less disciplinary and much less divided.
And it's true that there's a little reversal going on now. More and more educators around the country are seeing integration of the STEM disciplines and non-STEM disciplines; I feel it's important. But I want to keep the heat on you guys.
That was a nice try. That was a nice try.
I want to just go back a little tiny bit to the energy issue that was brought up about distributive energy and different technologies. Really on the way to asking a different question. Someone asked the question at the top of this little explanation, and asked it again at the end.
Many of us interact with technologies of various kinds. And these days, we live our lives, a lot of it connected to technology. And there's almost an intrinsic assumption that technology will save us, from whatever dilemma we're going to have.
And so, there's plenty of reason that people feel that way. One example, in the middle of the 19th century, there was a rising concern about whale oil becoming scarce. That was used then to light lamps to light your home. And eventually human ingenuity led us to petroleum products, and then now these newer forms of energy and so on.
And when you think about creating energy for the future, and adapting to potentially large shifts, and many of the problems that we're talking about today. Innovative new technologies is one of the first things that we always bring up.
And so the question is, now, I don’t mean this to sound negative, or cynical, but can we invent our way out of this dilemma? There's two points of view. One point of view is population will get to a certain size, Tuck and I talked about this before, and will reach some sort of limit to our ability to adapt.
And the other point of view is that technology will, and ingenuity, let's put a more general term, will allow us to make some changes. Where do the panelists fall on that issue? Can we invent our way out of this set of problems? Anybody? Everybody?
Catrina Rorke: I totally believe so.
David Skorton: You believe so.
Catrina Rorke: Yeah, so, the global 2000 report in the Carter administration talked about this super bleak future. About resource scarcity, and abundant poverty, and a polluted environment. And you'd think that heading into the year 2000 meant a total global collapse, and that's not what happened! So this Malthusian perspective, that people may be a burden to one another, that we could reach some sort of carrying capacity and the world will collapse around us, that idea has been presented many times.
And I think the data that we collect suggests that humans are not a burden, that we're not going to reach a carrying capacity. That our capacity for innovation actually allows humans to be ever more productive. Which is why population continues to increase, and not collapse. It's because every generation we can add more.
And so, when we think about the policy problems that we're looking at today, we can look at them as technology problems.
David Skorton: Mm-hmm
Catrina Rorke: And we have confidence. And we can see right now that we're innovating our way around them.
So whether it be the propagation of disease, well not only have we developed the medication to treat diseases tremendously, but we've developed aggressive supply chains that helped get medication out into communities that need it more quickly.
That's human innovation, that's not some gift of nature. And so we need to think about how humans have the capacity to innovate, and how we definitely have the impetus to innovate if we're looking at a collective problem like climate change.
Even if we don't want to solve climate change, the things that we're innovating right now are helping us find our way around that problem.
Because what we want is cheaper, more local forms of energy, and we're finding that. What we want is to feel like we're more sort of in a spiritual balance, and not consume aggressively, right? The minimalist movement is moving across the United States like wildfire. I think everybody has Marie Kondo's book now.
And so, this idea, that humans can't solve a problem that we're presented with? I think we have no data for that. Humans are marvelous at treating problems, especially aggressive problems like this, quite well. That's why agricultural productivity is up. It's ... I don't know, that's why we're going to solve the climate challenge.
This idea, that humans can't solve a problem that we're presented with? I think we have no data for that.
David Skorton: You know, I have to just jump in on this one. When you talk about infectious diseases, which is such a very interesting sort of cyclical problem, I remember when I was a med student, a long time ago in the ’70s, that we were talking a lot about non-communicable diseases. Heart disease, and cancer.
And one of our infectious disease professors at Northwestern said, "We'll invent a better mousetrap, and nature will invent a better mouse." And that was before, just at the very beginning of the recognition of HIV, before Ebola. So, I go back and forth.
Much of my life I lived thinking exactly what you said is right. But then I think eventually those cycles may unwind in a way that we can't come to. But it's a ... but I hope you're right.
Others have a point of view on this?
Denise Fairchild: I don't think ... I think technology is a tool, but I don't think it's going to get us out of our climate challenge.
David Skorton: Not even these 360-cameras like this?
Denise Fairchild: Great, great tools, toys. They're not tools, they're great toys.
You know, because, when you look at energy, for example. We use technology to invent, you know, steam engines. But we've used renewable wind and solar energy, we had those in the beginning. And we used and created fossil fuel technologies that got us into the place where we are today.
And we are now going back, and to your point, to the sort of renewable technologies that we had in the beginning. The only reason why fossil fuel technologies advanced, for cars and other things, is because there was a greater market opportunity to accumulate wealth and to make money off of this.
And so, I believe that it is an ethical challenge that we're facing. I do believe we're two-and-a-half times past carrying capacity in the earth. That we cannot continue to produce and consume at the level that we are now. We have not realized the full impact, we're starting to! In terms of the extreme weather conditions in California. [Secretary Skorton], you’re from California, the drought conditions and the loss of our water aquifers just totally destroying agricultural opportunities.
I've met farmers who're coming east looking for land to grow food because it's an issue. However, we do have aquaponics and hydroponics. We're finding some tools to help solve, to mediate, to mitigate some of the problems, but I don't think it's going to solve the climate change.
David Skorton: Other thoughts about this one?
Denise Fairchild: Unless we change our economy and change the ethics behind it.
Mary Evelyn Tucker: Steve you had your hand up, I'll go after you.
Steve Monfort: Yeah, I mean, I'm actually more optimistic about, I'm not a climate change expert, but it does seem to me, we know what that problem is, where there are alternatives that people can be using. And frankly if there was more consensus or action around policy, we probably would be on our way to making the change that's needed.
But technology in itself is also a risk if people become disconnected with nature. And I think that's a huge issue with our generation, the up-and-coming generations. It's the ... you can't do conservation from a satellite. I mean, and a cellphone. And this idea that you can substitute that for going out in the field and discovering biodiversity and understanding how those systems function? Those can't be done by robots, or, human beings, working with their hands, in the field, need to be doing that.
And people are not going to protect—it sounds cliché—but what they don't love and don't understand. So young people who don't have perspective of what nature is, or don't have that opportunity. And in the West, we ought to have that opportunity, we're wealthy enough to do that.
I can understand how children in underdeveloped countries might not have the same privilege. But I see, or I think people are too reliant on quick fixes through technology and it makes them complacent. And not dealing with the immediate threats to biodiversity that we can solve right now. We definitely know what’s causing biodiversity loss, and it's also us.
And it's habitat fragmentation and pollution, invasive species and disease, and so forth. We know there's also known solutions for those. Technology's not going to fix our consumption patterns or behaviors about over-extraction of rare resources, for example.
So I think there's a role for technology, genomics is a great example, you know, it's a great tool. But in and of itself, it's not going to solve anything. It's just a tool that we need to use in a bigger way.
But technology in itself is also a risk, if people become disconnected with nature.
Mary Evelyn Tucker: I agree. Just briefly, I think that technology is necessary, but not sufficient, which is what I think we're all saying. The power of human creativity, I think, is what Catrina is trying to put into the mix, here. The creativity has many expressions. And it needs to pay attention to equity issues. It needs to pay attention to inclusivity. This is human creativity, too. And I would just conclude, a very complex discussion here, but by saying -- part of, I think, our American technology, our know-how, our can-do attitude, which is very pragmatic, and so on, has no sense of limits. There is no precautionary principle in our thinking, or in our agencies here.
Why is it that the [European Union] has precautionary principles about a whole range of things, including what food goes in and out, and so on? So, I think technology as a solution alone is a misplaced notion, but especially without a precautionary principle. What are the implications for these technologies that we're releasing?
Technology as a solution alone is a misplaced notion, but especially without a precautionary principle. What are the implications for these technologies that we're releasing?
—Mary Evelyn Tucker
Tuck Hines: Every other species and population responds to Malthusian principles of limitation on the earth. So, it's, the question then becomes, are humans totally different from every other species? Or are we subject to some limits of growth, at some point?
The question of whether technology, or innovation, can solve the problems that we're facing with is a somewhat different question. But at the grossest level, there's only so many square meters on the planet, and if everybody's standing on all those square meters, then you’ve got a problem that technology isn't going to solve.
So it may be that technology will get to the point where it's acknowledging and solving a way to live within those limits, but it isn't scientifically, I will say, possible for an infinite growth of the human population on the planet.
We can see that those limitations are starting to impact us, and there are new solutions coming along to some of those, absolutely. Renewable energies could very easily meet some of the challenges that we're seeing. And we see, I think, at Steve's Earth Optimism Summit that we participated in, there was a guy that said, you know, "Back in the Stone Age, we didn't run out of rocks before we left the Stone Age behind." We moved on, you know, to a new technology. And I thought that was pretty amusing.
But on the other hand, if you project the current rate of population growth on the planet. And every civilization, actually, that is in this, has actually started to level off, because of advanced technology. So the concept that Malthusian limitations and technology and economic, the concept that economic models require, always growth, to be successful, are not necessarily at odds with each other, if you look at a larger view in life.
David Skorton: Jed, last thought on this?
Jedediah Purdy: I would just add that when we ask whether we can expect to solve problems, prospectively, we run the incidental risk of forgetting that we're already an ongoing catastrophe, for the planet, in so many dimensions. It's not as if we've succeeded so far, and we can expect to continue to succeed.
We don't need whale oil anymore, but many of the whales are still substantially gone and depleted. Just to come back to your original example, and that's almost the least of it. So we don't just have preventative work to do, we have reparative work to do, as well.
When we ask whether we can expect to solve problems, prospectively, we run the incidental risk of forgetting that we're already an ongoing catastrophe for the planet.
David Skorton: Anybody, any thoughts on the one biggest challenge?
Jedediah Purdy: Yeah.
David Skorton: Jed?
Jedediah Purdy: I think we need to find a way of redefining what wealth is. And to put a new conception of wealth and well-being at the center of a revised understanding of what markets are and what relation they have to our other modes of organizing collective life.
Denise Fairchild: Yeah, I would agree with Jed, in sort of following the ideas of Naomi Klein, where she talks about, this says everything about the economy and how we define wealth and prosperity as being central to this. And understanding, I think, also, Steve's point, about the intrinsic value of nature, but more even advance that further, to understand the intersectionality of nature and how we are a part of nature. That we are a part of nature, not separate from it. And that the intersection of environment, economy, and even our social issues, are all intertwined, and that the solutions has to be holistic, integrated, comprehensive. That's a big challenge.
David Skorton: It's a good one. Steve?
Steve Monfort: Yeah, think it's a matter of providing people with win-win choices, there, that we need to, there need to be, it has to be an opportunity for someone to make a good choice as a consumer, let's say. For a product, whether it be a car, or something else they need to live or the food that they buy. We can't expect people to not need those things or want those things. But somehow the market has to be incentivized in some way so that those choices are available. And then people need to be able to make a choice that benefits their livelihoods, their families, and so forth. But that also has a minimal impact on others in terms of things like climate change.
And then people need to exercise their power in making those decisions through their pocket books, but also they need to also at the ballot box. People need to become more, better citizens, with respect to expressing what they want, and making that known to their ... those that we employ to govern us.
And I think it doesn't even have to be activism. It just has to be an increased awareness, and personal responsibility, and expressing that through the choices you make, whether it's in the marketplace or in the ballot box.
David Skorton: Thank you, Mary Evelyn?
Mary Evelyn Tucker: Well, I love the point that Jed made about well-being. And I think that's certainly key to what we're all talking about. And I would just make two suggestions, if I might, picking up on what my colleagues have just said. That, if we understand, that human economy is a sub-system of nature's economy, that clearly there will be limits that are built into that, that's how an ecosystem works. But it's complex!
And the other part of that is, is again our colleagues have been saying, what is conservation? What is preservation? How do we go back to some of the great thinkers about this in our own history? And from other traditions and cultures.
But I love this point, that, I would say, it's conservation, preservation, management. But it's also restoration. It's restoration of these ecosystems. And along with restoration of the human spirit. What is it going to mean to redefine our place within these planetary systems? We're the first generation to know we're part of a very complex earth system, 4.6 billion years old! What does that mean for well-being? It's an exciting thing to...
David Skorton: Very good point. Tuck?
Tuck Hines: I'm very pragmatic, and I see the rate at which the climate is changing, and the consumption of fossil fuel as an enormous challenge. It's coming at us so fast that there's not a lot of change, not a lot of time to change everybody's ideas about their cultures and their global values, in my opinion.
We have 50 years, or something like that, the inertia of that change, and the climb at the rate of the oceans, for example, just one of the energy and warming, the expansion of those consequences, are impacting all the coastal cities of much of the population of the world.
And so I think the biggest challenge is to get using economic incentives, with scientific understanding, to shift our economies off of fossil fuels and onto renewable energies. And at as fast a possible pace as possible. Or the inertia of the system of this giant planet that we're on will overcome us.
David Skorton: Catrina?
Catrina Rorke: So, I'm gonna maybe throw a bone in the mix and say that maybe our biggest challenge is perspective. So we haven't yet done a lot of talking about the challenges between the developed and the developing world in addressing climate change. But we do know that climate change is not the only problem we're facing.
And we do know that some mechanisms of solving the climate challenge might actually be counterproductive to solving other challenges in the developing world.
And I think that's a conversation that is a subset of this broad conversation that we're having now, that we've failed to have in a constructive way at the global level. And I hope that it’s one that we can have, that it's not taboo to contextualize climate change against other problems that we're facing. And try to devise solutions that help us address more than one thing at the same time.
David Skorton: So I'm going to put my vote in for the biggest challenge. It's somewhat related to Catrina's comment and in part to Jed's comment. I think the biggest challenge is the attitude that we don't need to learn anymore. That we know everything we need to know, and we're just going to argue it through from our various points of view.
And I worry that we may fail to invest in research, of a broad variety of types. Not just scientific research, not just technological research. Research of the kind that would help answer the question that Catrina raised.
Now I'd like to give a chance to our audience members to ask any questions. You don't have to ask questions, you can ask questions, you don't need to, but you could. And you can see that this is a fairly friendly group. They've failed to go after each other, so.
Ahyende' Gray, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access: So, I have a question. It's mostly for basically all of you, because you all kind of touched on like y'all messages that's been given to. So let me be blunt with it: We all, as a human race, we have to like get past the third-dimensional thinking.
It's like everything is here for us with like, we got the tools to do it, we just have to look at it from a different perspective. Ants for example, they work together on a level we overlook and not really understand. There's certain things that they do. And it's like little stuff that escalates like the eyes we have, the cosmos stuff like that, offers a form of communication. And so I feel as though we have like Earth is just one small part of what God has created as far as like us, 'cause you know, it's all atoms, and mass, so, we all coming from like one direct source, and it's like, we got dimensions.
And right now we at a low dimension and the higher dimension will be sent from different perspectives. Certain higher levels, certain individuals, function like animals, we got the technology to watch these creatures, and stuff, and see how they like get, use the technology to get more insight on what they are doing, instead of worrying about the other stuff that's not going to help benefit earth and its evolution. 'Cause I feel as though celestial messages come down to other people when we give them our sole mission to do stuff and sort of, I don't want to get too deep on you but that's all I have to say.
David Skorton: Appreciate that, Ahyende’, and I think for those who couldn't hear that, Ahyende raises a point about the greater context in which we're living our lives and in which we're receiving challenges and messages. And appreciate your perspective on that. Anybody have any comments on that at all?
Denise Fairchild: Well I think I was also hearing a solution. You were defining a problem, but I think you were also telling us what the solution is to be resilient. Right?
Ahyende' Gray: Can I add on one thing, excuse me. Because I forgot, I didn't mention what I was supposed to say in the first part. But it's like, so we have religions and stuff. So we all come, so it's just like the animals, they come from different environments so they have different perspectives on how they see things and I feel as though religion is just a way of how we see things, and the experiences we're given. So music ties into that…
Denise Fairchild: Well, again, I'm challenged by religion and the perspectives that it provides us in this conversation. But I do see, looking at nature, I think as you were saying. How nature functions is the beginning of how we need to be resilient. And I'm not a natural resource person, so I almost look to Steve to answer the question about nature, understanding its interdependence. And how to be resilient. And seeing how it operates in an ecosystem where it survives and it understands its threats and it knows how to mitigate those threats. And how we need to, in terms of our solution, be more like the animals. And to be one in nature with the ecosystem. And find a way to be interdependent, to be more resilient.
David Skorton: Thank you, thank you, Ahyende', for the thought. Other thoughts or questions, from the audience?
Mary Evelyn Tucker: Can I just make a response here quickly?
David Skorton: Yes, please.
Mary Evelyn Tucker: I think maybe what I'm also hearing, but I want to hear more. It's my view, religions have their problems and their promise. But, if what I'm hearing from you, one of the ways we're trying to interpret religions, is these are systems that have embedded peoples in ecosystems for millennia. Rituals are done in relation to specific places, directions, water, the elements, et cetera. So we call them, actually religious ecologies. See, where humans have done this over centuries, Native Americans, indigenous peoples. But, all religions have had that sense. And their rituals are winter solstice, Christmas, Easter, connected to celestial movements and thought. So I think the question is to raise up ... OK, how have cultures actually tried to relate to ecosystems, and how can we do a better job, you see, that's the challenge.
David Skorton: Thank you, yes, you had a comment.
Sebastian Tayac, Fellow, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage: Yes, it actually has a lot to do with what you just said. Again my name is Sebi Tayac representing the Piscataway Indian Nation, and the Beaver Clan, and I have to acknowledge that we're on the ancestral land of the Nacotchtank village, which is part of our Piscataway chiefdom. It actually goes a bit back to what you were saying. My uncle, who's the chief of our tribe, when we do ceremonies he tells us that every organism was given its original instructions. No one has to tell a blade of grass how to grow, like you mentioned ants know what to do. Every organism on this planet, and even the larger systems which represent sort of living, cyclical things, like the water cycle, the cycle of rocks, and the cycle of the stars, all follow original instructions. And we say it was given to us by our creator. However you interpret that is up to you, but that humans, we're the tricky ones, because we have strayed and forgotten a lot from our original instructions. We're taught that the closer we get to our culture, walking the red road we call it, the closer we return to the creator's original instructions for us.
So that's the mentality I grew up with. And specifically in this ecology of southern Maryland, what is now Washington D.C., having at least 30 generations of oral history back here. The question I wanted to ask as someone who has been to Standing Rock, as someone who has been fighting the Potomac Pipeline, which is going to be crossing the Potomac River, the Dominion gas compressor station which is located right on our sacred lands. And various other immediate environmental attacks on our people, and all peoples in this area, but particularly low-income, indigenous, and people of color.
I think Standing Rock brought consciousness of the struggle of native people and our Mother Earth, and waters, which we consider to be our livelihoods. We say we come from the river, we come out of it. We flow from it.
And in this round table, in this Smithsonian Castle, in this elite space with a 360-camera and people wearing collared shirts, I see people referencing and talking about indigenous knowledge as part of the solution. And I haven't been alive for very long, but my understanding and given what I've been taught by my mother, my grandparents, and the plight that they went through for our knowledge to be respected and invoked and presented as a possible solution, is something that's very new. It's something that's very radical. So I just wanted to ask before our break here, for the people who have been talking about indigenous ways of understanding the world, indigenous technologies which I think history proves are superior to sustainable living than what we would consider our modern Western technologies. Where did you hear about that? When did you start to take indigenous seriously as a person in your position? As a decision maker, as a person of influence? When did you start to take indigenous knowledge seriously and when you bring it up, what's the image in your mind? Because the image in my mind is my land and what I experienced at Standing Rock. Confronting the state directly. But I want to know for you what's the image in your head when you talk about indigenous ways of living?
David Skorton: I'll take a crack at that first and then open it up to the crew. I appreciate the question, appreciate you being a part of this today. You're bringing up indigenous knowledge and very important issues in a social and political context. Which is more than reasonable. But the direct question that you asked is where did we first begin to say appreciate or invoke, and for me it was during my years at the University of Iowa, and also at Cornell University, where I had the great pleasure of learning from the Native American community there. Cornell is on the Haudenosaunee lands. And I got to know a bit about it, and that's all I know is a bit. I freely admit that. Through people I met who are members of the nations in those areas. From religious things that I read and tried to understand. And then through just discussions like this, about specific problems that then shed some light on a different way of looking at problems. A different way of thinking. So that's where it came to me. Any others wish to?
Denise Fairchild: I've always been culturally rooted, and when I speak of indigenous cultures I look to even my African ancestry and know about from the fact that they, from mother Africa, look at trees as living beings where the elders reside, and how the water and rocks are seen as fully animated. But just a lot of that reading was important. But this movement, this climate change movement in a global context, there's a lot of conversation with respect to our peers in the global south, that are bringing the indigenous cultures and values to the table. And it's a contest, it's a challenge, but it is actually ... There's a huge international conversation taking place and there is a local community, national community here of indigenous folks that are working on climate environmental justice and bringing indigenous knowledge to the table across the different ethnic groups.
David Skorton: Thanks. I'm gonna call our break, because they keep putting a break sign over there. And before I go on break, I just want to remind those out there who may want to know what the URL is to follow us along, because I think what the world needs is more people paying attention to Second Opinion.
Mary Evelyn Tucker: Could I answer his question? Would you mind?
David Skorton: Sure.
Mary Evelyn Tucker: Only 'cause I think it's so important.
David Skorton: Please, Mary. Please.
Mary Evelyn Tucker: So in the early ’70s, Thomas Barry, our teacher, was teaching classes at Fordham and Columbia on Native Americans. And my husband for his PhD did his thesis on shamanism with the Haudenosaunee and other groups. And then in 1997 we had a large conference at Harvard on indigenous traditions and ecology, bringing people from every continent for this issue. And my husband teaches this at Yale as well. And we're friends with Oren Lyons and a number of other people. So the image that comes to mind, I wanted to just reaffirm the Standing Rock moment I think underscores this coming together of a profoundly spiritual grounding. Rituals, fire, and ceremony, that made that possible. And the younger peoples who started it I think had a resonance around the world that was astonishing. So I just wanted to say that's what comes to mind for me, right now, is Standing Rock and the other issues across the country that have been birthed out of it. And I really thank you for your question.
David Skorton: Thanks.
Denise Fairchild: And if you want to be connected to some of the movements in that space, we can help you with that as well.
David Skorton: Thanks very much everybody.
David Skorton: Well, Catrina, in one of your writings, which I've had a very good time learning about, you've written, "There is no morally correct level of atmospheric carbon dioxide."
And so my question to you, Mary Evelyn, is how does adapting to these coming changes and things we're already experiencing, how does this adapting require new forms of morality, new views of religion, philosophy and law?
Mary Evelyn Tucker: What a huge question. And I think there's a community of people who are struggling with this, people in law, people in philosophy, people in religion, religious studies, but also in the various communities. And I think there's this tremendous sense that our moral vision needs to rise to the occasion. That if E.O. Wilson says we're going through an hourglass, especially due to the sixth extinction. We are going through some historical moment that is unique, let's just say, and very pressing, and very confusing. And I think we need, probably, plural moral visions to come through this, for sure. We need that from scientists. We need it from entrepreneurs. We need it from people in urban communities, and so on. But I think that is happening, and that's what's very exciting.
We are going through some historical moment that is unique, let's just say, and very pressing, and very confusing. And I think we need, probably, plural moral visions to come through this.
—Mary Evelyn Tucker
Let me just give you one example on an international level that I think is rather fascinating. In China, there's a movement called ecocivilization. Ecological civilization. It's part of the constitution that this is a right of people for healthy water and air and food, as you mentioned earlier. They are drawing on their traditions of Confucianism and Buddhism and Taoism to say, well, how did these traditions integrate humans into nature? What are their views that can be brought forward?
So that's a rather stunning, I think, example. To say how will this have traction over time with the tremendous problems China is facing is a very, very big question, but I put it before us because I think it's a very fascinating movement forward.
I would also say that the pope's encyclical on the environment, Laudato si’, which really brings together what I think is coming together, and that is ecology and justice. That the ecological community has often been concerned with preserving or conserving ecosystems. Humans are over here. The religions have often been concerned about justice for humans, but not seeing it related to the environment. So, the huge movement of Laudato si’, “care for our common home,” is to say, people and planets are integrated and that clearly we have to have environmental justice at the core of this. Those who are suffering from climate change in coastal communities and elsewhere are the most vulnerable, people who haven't created the problem but are suffering from it.
So, that, I think, is very promising. People at our School of the Environment at Yale feel even that that broad, moral vision, helped to get the climate agreement in Paris, in fact, because of [the pope’s] speeches both here in Congress and at the U.N.
So, just to conclude, every religion now has a statement on the environment, whether it's from care for creation or the sense of intrinsic value, and that's a remarkable movement in 20 years. They also have statements on climate change. And now the call is how to actualize those statements, how to move them forward.
And I'll conclude that the climate march in 2014 with 400 people in New York began with indigenous peoples in the front. It was magnificent and powerful, but 10,000 religious leaders and laity joined that march, and it was a watershed for this religious environmentalism, if you will.
David Skorton: Thanks, Mary Evelyn. Other thoughts about this, Jed?
Jedediah Purdy: I think often in the tradition of law and philosophy, questions of justice among human beings and questions of environment have been thought of with separate vocabularies and separate silos. And I think in quite a deep way environmental questions can't be siloed going further. I think there are at least three ways in which this is true.
One is that climate change, along with other contemporary crises, reinforces and expresses human inequality, both in the global distribution of who contributes to it and in the global distribution of who is vulnerable to it. So, it is itself a question of environmental justice all the way down, and one that's not separable from other forms of global justice.
I think second, because we can't avoid making choices about what sort of world we're going to preserve and any world will foster certain forms of value in relationship to it and preclude others or make them more difficult, it's essential that plural moral voices and traditions participate in a genuine and empowered way in the question of what sort of world we're going to make. So, there's a question, if you will, of political justice, and a question of distributive justice.
And then the third thing, I think, is that questions have often been thought of as matters of domestic policy, welfare and social provisions, say, have environmental dimensions on many levels. Let me give one example. If we want to think of the question how we could understand ourselves as living well without demanding more, always demanding more, if we could decouple our sense of wealth from the fact of growth at some point, which I think has to be part of the said innovations that we're talking about. Well, at present the need for more is enforced politically. If a democratic government or even just a minimally popularly responsive government like China's presides over a collapse in growth and employment, it's going to fall.
And the individual experience that underlies that political enforcement, if you will, the microeconomics of the macroeconomics that says we always need more, is the individual experience of never being sure you have enough to be safe, because the world is so insecure and so precarious. And actually, in a highly unequal country, is becoming more so. Even as we're getting richer people's individual positions are becoming more precarious.
So, an economy that makes people more secure, that makes people safer, gives them more room to take risks, not just in the entrepreneurial sense, but in other senses, may be a precondition to or at least the help to transformative environmental politics.
David Skorton: Really very interesting. Other thoughts about this?
Denise Fairchild: Well, I'm in agreement, basically, with the idea that environmental climate justice, economic justice and social justice is intricately related.
I'm a part of a global, but clearly U.S., movement of frontline communities that have seen the intersections of environmental, economic and social justice. And we're developing formulas, strategies at the local level, looking at local initiatives about how to address these things. You know, Black Lives Matter and Dreamers are working together with [environmental justice] communities and really beginning to see that the causes of poverty and pollution are really the same.
It's the notion of an ethic where extraction at all costs is OK, that it is rooted in how we measure well-being. It's rooted in the gross domestic product, GDP, as opposed to looking at different ways of measuring well-being, as in the country of Bhutan, where the happiness index, people are beginning to understand that it's not just about how much we produce and how much money I make. It's the environment I breathe, the time I have to spend with my kids, the other dimensions that matter to people, and they really do matter. No one really wants to work 60-hour weeks. Nobody really wants to work 40-hour weeks. But that is how our economy is driven.
And to be able to begin to understand solutions that understand the intersections of these elements are very important. And it really starts with measurements of well-being and life-cycle accounting when it even looks at the market economies. Having them look at market economies so they see whatever we do is not just at the point of production, but it is the full life cycle of a material or a product that's produced, begins to get at a different way of measuring what we're doing to ourselves and to our environment.
David Skorton: Thank you. Catrina, please.
Catrina Rorke: So part of the motivation behind writing that phrase is that this is a really complex question about what the future of the globe looks like. So in [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] models, even if we do nothing about global climate change, economic development accelerates at such a rate that in the future we will be better off as a globe, in spite of even catastrophic climate change, which is a really incredible measure, because that can't be consistent with catastrophic climate change, but that's what the models bear because economic growth can solve so many problems.
We know that in the developed world we face fewer obstacles in treating communicable and noncommunicable diseases. We know that a rich country that exists largely below sea level can thrive, while a poor country that exists largely below sea level cannot. And economic development is a terrific indicator, not just for mortality and morbidity, but a terrific indicator for our ability to weather what the environment can throw at us. And so when we think about what these new models and paradigms are for considering global equity, is that part of it? Is a solution to just not deal with this and allow the globe to become richer? What is it that we would be sacrificing if we can solve this problem by ignoring it? I'm not sure that we've necessarily addressed that quite yet.
David Skorton: Very, very interesting. Other thoughts about that?
Steve Monfort: Well, that particular idea, I think, doesn't really match with my own worldview, because economic justice, or economic increase in everybody's standard of living, doesn't necessarily translate to a quality of life holistically, and we were just talking about what it means to live more completely and more holistically in the world, or my connection with nature, or how ecosystems function and biodiversity is sustained.
You can be wealthy and you can have more money and more justice in that sense, but I'm very worried that that is not a solution if you're not also solving how do these systems function? We can't just grow without taking account for the natural function of systems that need to be left alone, need to be intact.
Money alone is only one measure, I suppose, of justice, and well-being, for sure. In my view, that's pretty dangerous, I think. It's sort of a dangerous thought. I can't imagine that just making more money will get us to where we need to be in terms of a sustainable planet.
Money alone is only one measure, I suppose, of justice, and well-being, for sure. In my view, that's pretty dangerous.
David Skorton: Let me push this a little bit further. It depends, I think, in a way, on where you are in the spectrum of economic development. In the West and in the cultures that most of us come from, we tend to think about economic development as starting from a pretty good place and trying to get to a better place. And yet, I think echoed in some of Catrina's comments is a concern about societies that are way below that level of functioning and sufficiency, and whether movement of those societies into more predictable food supplies and so on is a good, no matter how you get there. You didn't say it that way, but I think the ultimate argument would be that the end justifies the means if one is at a barely subsistence level.
Steve Monfort: Well, there was an implication, though, in what was said, that, if I understood it correctly, that we could ignore the problem by just focusing on economic development. I think you have to have increased economic development, that's for sure, but I don't think you can ignore all of the side effects of economic development and that has to be managed in some way that is sensible and that will sustain justice in other ways. I'm not an expert in social environmental justice, but I would say it probably has many dimensions to how we define it. You were already talking about it. So economic justice is only one part of that, so that's all I was really trying to get at.
Denise Fairchild: And I would say the issue of equity, even in Western society, is an issue we have to attend to. That poor communities are very vulnerable to climate change. And I was just talking to Tuck earlier that if you're wealthy in America, you can move to higher ground when there's sea level rise. Not a problem. I can buy another house. I can get in my car. I can drive away. Katrina can hit. No problem. But if you're poor and you're vulnerable ...
So there’s the distribution of wealth is an issue with our economic development models. And even in the global south, the poor communities in the Southern Hemisphere, for example, are challenged. I'm working with Afro-Colombians that live in the Amazon that are looking to preserve their biodiversity. And they've been discovered in the last ten years by the fossil fuel industry that's coming in and extracting their resources, extracting their wealth and their ability to subsist and to live off the land and to live a quality of life in the interests of our economic development, goals and objectives. So I think the economically developed world are causing the pollution and the inability to subsist in other parts of the global south, in particular.
Mary Evelyn Tucker: I just want to mention that I think this is absolutely crucial, what you both said. But the U.N. is attending to some of this, despite that people think it's removed and out there. The millennium development goals were very much oriented to what is genuine development? What is more equitable development? This whole redefining development, especially with your concerns, rightly so, for the poor and for the global south, and then the sustainability development goals that just came out right after the pope spoke at the U.N., adopted by all nations in the world. I think this is a point of optimism and hope that we can recalibrate what is genuine development.
In that mix, in the Rio conference in '92, which was about sustainability and development, ecology and economy, [former Soviet Union leader Mikhail] Gorbachev said we need an ethics that's going to help adjudicate or help weave these two clashing problems, and the Earth Charter came out of that. It took ten years to develop that. People from every continent were represented. Women's groups, minorities groups, business communities and so on. And I think the Earth Charter is a measure of the sense that we have a much richer sense of interdependence. That charter, just briefly, ecology, the integrity of ecosystems, justice and peace. That's the framework. And I think this is really essential for a broader picture in addressing some of these specific issues.
David Skorton: I think bringing up the Earth Charter is a really relevant thing for this conversation, because without such a, to use a cliché, holistic view, you could imagine a certain arrogance where countries that have attained a certain level say now we got to really put the brakes on X or Y, and then countries that are trying to get up to a subsistence level are not there, but the Earth Charter took a holistic view and followed very much the kind of words that you were espousing, Steve.
Steve Monfort: Economic development is, of course, at the heart of everything. Every other society wants to live the same way we do and so on, with the benefits that we have, but this whole idea of smarter development, smart green infrastructure development, there are ways to do that that are not incompatible with sustaining biodiversity and functioning systems that won't have add-on effects to climate change and so on.
To me, the reality is we’re going to have, trillions of dollars are going to be spent on development in one way or the other, so the idea is well, how are we going to deploy those funds to develop in a smart way that gets people what they need without also destroying the environment? That's the win-win that's out there for me. And it's all relative, like you said. In the Masai culture it's about how many cattle you have, let's say. If we just endlessly increase cattle herds, we're going to have no grazing pasture and we're going to have this commons tragedy going, so we have to create other avenues for these folks to have economic development.
And I believe, somehow, they can be done in smarter ways, in compatible ways that can allow you to do both things, which is to have environmental justice and sustainability and also economic development. I don't think they're necessarily incompatible things.
David Skorton: This is a very positive statement and moves us in the direction of optimism, and I want to explore that a little bit more, especially from the point of view of what an individual can do.
So obviously, at least I will tend to hang onto examples throughout history of where an individual who was courageous and visionary has been able to make a difference that caused a ripple effect that caused more differences and something very positive happened. So what can each of us do individually to make a difference? I want to begin to talk about solutions, not necessarily this panel, but just each of us in general. What can we be doing? What can we suggest to our friends and colleagues and neighbors in the United States and around the world, to make a difference about this set of problems. We all acknowledge there's problems. We all acknowledge that there's complexities in what caused the problems and what might sustain them. What can each of us begin to do?
Steve Monfort: Can I use one example? It's not my own personal action, but we just held this Earth Optimism Summit and so we invited these 250-plus people from around the world to come and tell us what works in conservation and why and how can you take those successes to scale. And one of the guys who was there, his steps stood out for me.
His name is Afro Shaw, he's from Mumbai, he's a lawyer, and he lives in an apartment building. He would look out the window and he saw that Verosa Beach, which is out where he could see, was just covered with plastic pollution, just horrific. And he gave his talk here, and he's been evangelizing what he does. But he and an 84-year-old neighbor looked at this and said, "We have to do something. The government's not doing anything, what can we do?"
And they went out and they decided they were going to start a social media campaign and they were going to start picking up plastic. And he was telling the story, so now they're 75 weeks into it, it's the largest beach cleanup that's ever been done with thousands of tons of plastic have been picked up. And this was about just two individuals taking action. And so he said to everyone, "I don't believe you have to wait for the government. You don't have to wait for anybody to tell you what to do." He says, "The problem was with me. The solution was with me." And he took action to do something.
And I think that was an example of personal commitment and action, but that's infectious, and that probably at some level embarrassed or incentivized the government and others to use that and to take it up. And I was just impressed by so many individual examples of people who have taken action.
So in my own life I'm a bit, also, sometimes humbled, as to what can I possibly do? And I think it's a struggle. We talked earlier about making individual choices and kind of the food that I ... I think more about where my food is sourced from. I drive a car that's more fuel-efficient, things like that. But as we said earlier, everybody doing that, you know, taking a shorter shower, isn't going to save the planet.
So I think it's a wicked kind of a problem for how can a person have an impact? It's basically trying to catalyze a community in wherever you live and to take action. Someone told me once that ... I was doing an environmental education program in Miami with middle-school kids, and a guy who I was there with, he says, "Well this is great." He says, "So what do you do back home in your own kid's school?" And I realized I was a thousand miles away, working with middle-school kids, and I'd never been to my own kid's grade school.
So I came home and I went and I saw the principal, and I went and talked to him, and I started doing environmental education there. So one of the things that I think you can do, wherever you are, wherever you live, is to take ownership of the community in which you live in. And we're so distributed, and we live ... No one's from here. This is a famous place, where no one is really from Washington. A lot of people aren't. You are. But take ownership of the place that you live in. And learn about it, and know about it, and try to become engaged in it. I think that's the only way I can think of, is to be involved in your community on a personal level.
Tuck Hines: I think that's a great comment. You know, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center focuses on our home in Chesapeake Bay. And we view the largest estuary in the country, the Chesapeake Bay, as really a system that includes the watershed. 64,000 square miles, six states and the District of Columbia. You know we're all sitting here on our main study site.
That's an enormous area, and an extremely complicated challenge to try to regulate and engage. It's got some 18 million people on it, now headed toward 24 million. But one way that we've found is it has to become personal. You'll be much more motivated about you and yours and your situation. And these things scale. So a 64,000-square-mile watershed has lots of little watersheds. And the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center is on a much smaller watershed called the Rhode River where we've set this model system for understanding how it works, and what's driving it, and how it interacts with the larger world.
And the people in that community we've begun to increasingly interact with and get them aware of what we do and make that accessible, to engage them in that process. That engagement is part of what the Smithsonian and our new strategic plan is all about.
So, to Steve's comment, you have to interact and take responsibility for yourself. Yes, you are one person. But that's what you can control, for sure. And you can make that happen by connecting to others through culture and choices. And making the economy drive forward, and improve ... Apply those technologies in an effective way, rather than staying in the rut of how it was done before.
You have to interact and take responsibility for yourself. Yes, you are one person. But that's what you can control.
Denise Fairchild: Yeah. I think part of the solution has to do at the individual level. It depends on what you really ... Your perspective as to what the problem is. And if the problem is seen as how the economy works, then human agency needs to be deployed in a way that puts our money where our mouth is. Where we withdraw resources that we do not spend money in places for irresponsible business. Now there's a whole new movement of socially responsible businesses, the Ben & Jerry's of the world, and what we can name the B Corps. The whole notion of B Corps are growing. And so we should really pay attention to that.
And also, as our own agencies live large on less, and the different ways of doing that, but the notion of power. We have power with respect to money and how we use money, and I think it's not just the individual agency around withholding resources, but it's collective power as well. And to the extent that we actually join organizations and influence the policy environment and influence the market to behave in ways that will create a climate that will adjust for climate change, I think is important.
Mary Evelyn Tucker: Like divest. Divest.
Denise Fairchild: Divestment. Mmhmm.
Mary Evelyn Tucker: And invest. Jed, you were trying to get in.
Jedediah Purdy: I just would like to agree and amplify how essential I think this point is, about collective work that aims at mobilizing power. If we're on the theme of optimism and what the individual can do, much as I think it's important to honor and cultivate all the kinds of virtues and local commitments that people are talking about, and I really do, I think we all do, I think optimism can be a double-edged thing.
An analogy. I will never forget this public opinion finding, now more than 15 years ago, that if you add up the share of Americans who think they're in the top 1 percent of national income, and the share who think they aren't yet but soon will be, you get more than 50 percent. So, that's optimistic.
And in some ways you might try things that you wouldn't try otherwise, if you didn't believe that, but it's a cruel and unrealistic optimism, and it sets people up for a disappointment that may account for some of the kinds of simplistic political solutions that they are drawn to.
So many of the environmental problems we're talking about will not be solved by more virtuous personal and local action. Even if that action is a necessary prerequisite to the kinds of collective action that'll be required. And so our optimism is cruel and incomplete if it doesn't include saying that one of the things people need to do is see how hard the problem is, and what kinds of changes at the level of the architecture of economic rules and power we're working within have to happen. Which are really questions, to come back to your point. These are really questions of collective power.
Steve Monfort: Just to add on to that. I think once you've made this personal decision to change your behavior or change the way you live, it makes you more likely to then join with others that share those values, and it makes you more motivated to want to vote with your money and vote in the ballot box with people who support your viewpoints, and makes you more active in wanting to see that end at a point that you believe it may occur.
And so I think maybe it's optimism that you can have an impact, but I think also that personal responsibility motivates you to be an engaged citizen, and to learn more, and to stay informed, and so forth. And I think that's another thing that we can all be doing. If everyone was more informed about the facts, they would at least make a better decisions, or at least more informed decisions.
Catrina Rorke: But I think this is really interesting, right? Because we talked earlier about how if you pulled an opinion and you see more evidence to the contrary, your opinion becomes more ingrained. And one of the obstacles we have to fighting climate change in the United States is the lack of political will, because there is a large population that sees data on climate change and says, "Oh no, God's just tugging us a little closer," or something. So how do we break through that?
We want to communicate with people in a way that brings them to solutions, without getting them bogged down in the problem, if the problem is their roadblock to seeing the solution. And so I work a lot with conservatives and trying to identify why there is this block, why we can't value the economic principles with which we look at other policy problems in this instance. And that is one of our obstacles, is that we talk about the problem in a way that makes it seem that solutions are expensive, and will require us to assume some deprived lifestyle to see the future, when what we want to do is communicate the sense of optimism.
So yeah, there is a problem. Yes, we all need to take some amount of action. But we don't want to get stuck on that problem and that individual action if it's what's stopping us from reaching a more complete solution.
Steve Monfort: But the question about getting more information and being more entrenched in your view, I think part of that is, where are we getting information from? And today it's very difficult for people to know, to receive information that isn't super biased in one way or the other. Even the way people get knowledge off the Internet, or watching the news media, there's inherent bias in the way things are being presented. People aren't being given the knowledge for them to make a decision, the actual facts.
When you say people are presented with climate data, I don't think very many people look at climate data. I think they look at someone else's spin on whatever the data was. That's a huge problem. Because where are people getting their information, how are they supposed to make a decision if all they're getting is what reinforces their own view?
David Skorton: I think we're depending too much on the usual ways of disseminating information. This is going to sound like a hopelessly retro suggestion, but what we're doing here today, and obviously this is a carefully selected group, it's like an old-fashioned salon. We're sitting around, we don't really know each other that well but we're talking about things that we find of mutual interest. Are we lacking that in our communities, even in our households? Individual, looking at our phones, trying to get information from some other source?
Steve Monfort: That's why you took away our phones, I think. So we'll actually talk to one other.
Denise Fairchild: I think it is an issue. And I think Catrina's right, in terms of how we have conversations. How do we talk about climate change? And if climate change is something that is going to create barriers, then we don't use the language of climate change.
I do have colleagues that work in rural communities, conservative rural communities. You can't talk climate change, but you can talk about environmental change, because they live it. They see it with their farming, what the seasons are looking like and how it's impacting their produce. They see it in their fisheries. They see it all around them. They know, whether it's extreme weather conditions and the number of tornadoes that are coming through or whatever. They see the environmental change, so we don't have to call it climate change. We can talk about what's happening in your backyard, in your approach to taking local initiatives, and then what can we do about it.
And so, we're stuck with language, even though I find it very curious that the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, was created under a Republican administration and up to ten years ago there was a bipartisan agreement that climate was an issue and environmental issues are important. What has happened to the communication vehicles that have all of a sudden shifted that, I'm not sure, but be what it may be, how do we talk to people where they are, to address the things that they see happening in their everyday lives?
Mary Evelyn Tucker: I agree with that, of course, very much. And everyone's talking about framing and telling stories and so on. That's very much in the air, and I think it's terrific. I mean, the EPA came into being because of the Stockholm Conference on Environmental Development, and everywhere around the world started EPAs. So that was an international pressure as well.
And I just wanted to put back into the conversation a couple things. That we asked the question about individual action, which again comes from our valuing of individuals in our own culture. But I wanted to suggest that our individual action is always community based, and it's also resulting in further communities.
And I wanted also to suggest that I think some of the wisest traditions in the world have this very long-term sensibility of detachment from the fruits of our actions. We will never know what our particular life work is, the wu wei of Taoism. The Bhagavad Gita talks about karma phala. We will never know. This is what Gandhi based his work on for non-violence and Thoreau and King.
So I just want to tell two quick stories. Wangari Maathai, in Africa, in Kenya, the first woman to have a PhD in eastern Africa, started the Green Belt Movement of planting trees and empowering women, which was astonishing and extraordinary, against very difficult political odds, and she went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize, the first time the Peace Prize was given for environmental work. To say peace building and the environment are one, and women empowerment is essential. And she was doing this out of her religious sensibilities, being both African and Christian, profoundly spiritual person.
The other story I wanted to tell was, in the Ecological Society of America in Baltimore a couple summers ago, 10,000 of our best ecologists gathered. You were probably there.
Tuck Hines: I was there.
Mary Evelyn Tucker: Exactly. And it was tremendous. And we had two days on religion and ecology, which was wonderful. And I love that meeting. In that meeting the president endorsed the papal encyclical, along with the past president and future president, which was unprecedented for a society like that. So I think we're making progress in this sense that there's a moral forte.
But I came out of that meeting, went back to the Holiday Inn, and an African-American older man was on the street of Baltimore, that had just exploded with its own internal issues, and he was putting water in those trees. And I said to him, "There's nothing in that water, is there?" And he said, "No man. This is just water." And he said, "These are my friends. And I do this every day." And he said, "During the winter this one tree was dying," he said. But somebody told him it's OK, it's gonna make it through the winter. And he said, "Look at that tree. It's growing." And he said, "I call this tree 'Hope.'" Which was so striking, hope in that tree.
And to me, this is the sense that even in urban settings, where we can have tree planting and so on, we can have that sense of the possibility of resilience and hope.
David Skorton: It's beautiful. Now, I'm going to ask the panelists one final question. Integrating all of this thinking, you’ve been thinking about this for years and decades in some cases, in the end, do you have reason to be optimistic about our future in this regard? Something more than a simple yes or no would be appreciated.
Steve Monfort: Yeah, I will start with that. I make the analogy about my job. People say, "What's the best part of your job?" And I say, "The best part of my job is the people, and the worst part of my job is the people." And I think that when it comes right down to it it's really about the nature of humankind, and whether or not we're the worst of what we are, or we can become the best of what we are capable of being.
So we're capable of being selfish and shortsighted and ignorant, but we're also capable of being incredibly generous and thoughtful and we have our intellect that we can exercise in amazing ways. So the question then becomes which of those are we going to choose? Which of those pathways will maybe save humankind?
So I believe that people, the best of people, will eventually come forward and win out. So I tend to be optimistic and hopeful for that reason, because frankly I think those two emotions are what make us able to go forward in our lives. And if you take hope away and you eliminate optimism, I think you lose a will to want to go forward.
We're capable of being selfish and shortsighted and ignorant, but we're also capable of being incredibly generous and thoughtful. So the question then becomes which of those are we going to choose?
David Skorton: Denise?
Denise Fairchild: I'm very optimistic. I have a book coming out, October 17, called Energy Democracy, presenting case studies, 12 communities around the United States, that are actually working on this question of environment, climate, economy, and social justice, proving at the local level that there are models being created, there are successes taking place, and there's a growing movement of movements that are merging together around this notion, this intersection of climate, economy and social justice.
So we're presenting case examples that can, we hope, grow from these sort of cottage demonstrations into sort of larger movements. So I'm very optimistic.
David Skorton: You know if we had our phones we could preorder that book. Mary Evelyn?
Mary Evelyn Tucker: Well, I'm optimistic because of the students I teach at Yale, who are incredibly creative and dedicated and are inheriting some of the largest problems humans have ever had to know. And therefore I'm delighted to have this group circling us of young people who are working on these issues. I think it's so appropriate, symbolically and otherwise. So my hope goes into the next generation, and into our intergenerational handshake with them.
David Skorton: Thanks Mary Evelyn. Tuck?
Tuck Hines: I'm also very optimistic, for a number of reasons. As Mary Evelyn just mentioned, the next generation of scientists that's coming along is much smarter, much better integrated, and better trained than we ever were. And they're able to encompass the holistic and complex problems that we're taking on to arrive at solutions. Moreover, I've actually seen in my lifetime things get better. I've seen small instances, but also big complicated systems get better. Monterey Bay is doing better. Chesapeake Bay is even starting to do better. The sound system in North Carolina are coming along better.
So these are systems that have faced really big problems, and were way further, in much more trouble than they were. I believe that the technology can solve some of the really urgent problems of climate change, and will have to be brought to bear urgently now. But we've even seen in the last five years how that can actually come to fruition at a global scale. So I think that there's a lot to be optimistic about, but it's going to be a pretty heavy lift for the next 50 years.
David Skorton: Thanks Tuck. Catrina?
Catrina Rorke: I'm optimistic. I'm optimistic because I think we're already making it easier to solve these problems. Yeah, I'm a huge believer in technology. And I guess I'll say that the way that we can tell it's getting easier is one of my favorite analogies in the technology development space.
In the United States, the development of the telephone was a super democratizing influence that connected people in a way that we hadn't been connected before. But your access to this democratizing influence was based on where you were located geographically, having a telephone line go to your house. And that was limiting. I remember I would get hobby kits when I was younger and it would ask you even if you had a phone, not what your phone number was.
Denise Fairchild: You're not that old.
Catrina Rorke: Well there's been a lot of innovation, thank you, in subsequent years, and now we have cellphone technology, and it seems bizarre that you would need centralized infrastructure because cellphones can connect through distributed infrastructure, even through satellite technology.
So in the developing world, phone access actually never was predicated on last line phone service. It started when we had the cellphone. And we see that in energy technology today. So we're not going to build a massive electrical grid that starts at a coal-fired power plant and runs to every household in the world. That's an impractical and very expensive solution, and it worked for us 'cause it was what we had at the time. But right now we're giving people access to reliable forms of energy by sending out technologies that are getting cheaper every day. Wind power, solar power, small hydroelectric power, even, in a lot of parts of the developing world, and batteries that are getting astoundingly cheaper, largely because we want them for our cellphones.
And so, that we're already solving these problems today, sure energy might be a small example, but you can see this footprint of innovation allowing us to leapfrog a lot of the obstacles that we faced in the developed world to just skip over a lot of the problems we've generated for ourselves. And so I'm optimistic, because I think we're going to keep inventing really cool things.
David Skorton: Thanks Catrina. Jed? Last word.
Jedediah Purdy: I find that I can't let my attitude toward this question turn on the balance of optimism and pessimism. Because there are powerful reasons for optimism, which people have surveyed very articulately, but there are still crushing reasons for doubt in place, going back to the collective action structure, the very problem we're addressing, and many more rooted in the uncertain and ambiguous character of human nature.
But I don't find that a reason to despair. As Steve said, the reason we care about optimism is that it gives us reasons to act toward the future. But I think there's so much insight in Mary Evelyn’s adverting to the many, many traditions in which we have to detach our will to act from our expectation of consequences. And I think that that's not just an idea. If we look at the people who were historically responsible for many of the kinds of progress that give us the greatest sense of historical possibility now, especially reform in social life and economic life, they didn't necessarily take heroic measures because they were optimistic. It was because they felt solidarity. It was because they were in it together with other people, and that gave them enough reason to act together toward the future.
So I don't know whether I'm optimistic, but I'm sure that it's not the only way to have reason to act.
David Skorton: Beautiful. I want to thank the panelists for a really fascinating discussion. I learned a lot from each of you, really had a great time. And to those of you who are viewing this I hope you enjoyed it. I hope you learned a lot. You want to learn more, it's easy to do by going to www.smithsoniansecondopinion.com. You can drill down on some of these issues. And please watch for more interesting conversations with fascinating people coming up. I'm David Skorton, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, bidding you a good day.
When Dr. Gunther von Hagens started using “plastination” in the 1970s to preserve human bodies, he likely did not anticipate the wild success of the Body Worlds exhibitions that stem from his creation. Body Worlds has since hosted millions of visitors to its exhibits, including six spin-offs. The offshoots include a version on vital organs and another featuring plastinated animal remains. The process replaces natural bodily fluids with polymers that harden to create odorless and dry “specimens.”
Frozen in place, plastinated remains in the exhibits are rigidly posed—both for dramatic effect and to illustrate specific bodily features. Over 40 million museum visitors have encountered these exhibitions in more than 100 different locations worldwide. Even copycat exhibits have taken off, eschewing accredited museums in favor of places like the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
But Body Worlds—though seemingly an entirely modern phenomenon only made possible with futuristic plastic technology—emerges from a long tradition of popular exhibits featuring actual and simulated human remains. What continues to draw so many people to human body exhibitions—even today?
Early exhibits of human bodies
For nearly as long as physicians and anatomists have attempted to understand the body, they have attempted to preserve, illustrate and present it. Cabinets of curiosities displayed in the homes of European nobility in the 16th century frequently included human skulls. As civic museums emerged in cities throughout Europe and the United States, some began to formally organize collections around anatomical questions.The Hyrtl Skull Collection at the Mütter Museum continues to be displayed together. Recently, the museum organized a ‘Save Our Skulls’ fundraising campaign in order to better conserve the collection. (George Widman, 2009, for the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia)
Medical museums were often more interested in pathologies—abnormal medical conditions or disease. They also collected thousands of skulls and bones, attempting to address basic questions about race. Early on, medical museums were generally closed to the public, instead focusing on training medical students through hands-on experience with specimens. Almost reluctantly, they began opening their doors to the public. Once they did, they were surprised by the relatively large number of visitors curiously entering their galleries.
Medical museums were not the sole institutions housing and displaying remains, however. Collections aimed more squarely at the general public often included such items as well. The Army Medical Museum, for instance, located along the National Mall, exhibited human remains between 1887 and the 1960s (living on as the National Museum of Health and Medicine). The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History built its own large body collections, especially during the early 20th century. Popular exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History exhibited human remains in New York City just steps from Central Park.
Notable exhibits featuring human remains or innovative reproductions were also wildly popular at World’s Fairs, including Chicago (1893), St. Louis (1904) and San Diego (1915), among many others. People crowded galleries even as these exhibits proved vexing to critics.
Troubling transition from person to specimen
In the quest to rapidly build collections, remains were sometimes collected under highly questionable ethical circumstances. Bodies were removed from graves and sold, gathered from hospitals near exhibitions reminiscent of human zoos, and rounded up haphazardly from battlefields.
In the United States, the human body in the late 19th and early 20th century was racialized in almost every respect imaginable. Many people became obsessed with the supposed differentiations between Native Americans, African Americans and European Americans—occasionally stretching claims into rigid hierarchies of humankind. The exhibitions dehumanized bodies by casting them as observable data points rather than actual human beings.
Some exhibits blended medical science and racial science in a bizarrely inaccurate manner. Medical doctors supported eugenics groups organizing temporary exhibits comparing hair and skulls from different apes and nonwhite humans, underscoring popular notions about the supposedly primitive nature of those outside of Western civilization. To our modern eyes, these attempts are obviously stained by scientific racism.
Eventually, the racialized science that had led to collecting thousands of skulls and other bones from people around the world came under increased scrutiny. The comparative study of race—dominating many early displays of human remains—was largely discredited.
Indigenous activists, tired of seeing their ancestors viewed as “specimens,” also began pushing back against their display. Some exhibit planners began seeking other methods—including more sophisticated models—and exhibiting actual human remains became less prominent.
By midcentury it was less common to display actual human remains in museum exhibits. The occasional Egyptian mummy notwithstanding, museum remains were largely relegated behind the scenes to bone rooms.
Specimen exhibits fade, temporarily
With largely unfounded concern, museum administrators, curators and other critics worried audiences would be disgusted when shown vivid details about human anatomy. Gradually, as medical illustrations became better and easier to reproduce in textbooks, the need for demonstrations with real “specimens” seemed to dissipate.
First displayed at a World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933, see-through models of the human body became a favorite attraction at medical exhibits in years to come. Models replicated actual human body parts rather than displaying them in preserved form. Exhibits were sometimes animated with light shows and synchronized lectures.Popular Science described a model from the 1939 World’s Fair, an alternative to real human specimens. (Popular Science, CC BY-NC)
Later, in the 1960s, new transparent models were created for popular education. Eventually, some of the many transparent medical models wound up in science museums. Although popular, it remains unclear how effective the models were in either teaching visitors or inspiring them to learn more about the human body.
Over the years, methods for teaching anatomy shifted. Many medical museums even closed permanently. Those that could not dispose of collections by destroying them donated or sold them. Human body exhibits generally faded from public consciousness.
But after decades of declining visitor numbers, something surprising started happening at one of the nation’s most important medical museums. The Mütter Museum’s displays continued to draw heavily from its human remains collections even as similar institutions moved away from such exhibits. From the mid-1980s to 2007, the number of visitors entering the Mütter’s galleries grew from roughly 5,000 visitors per year to more than 60,000. Today, the museum is the most visited small museum in Philadelphia, hosting over 130,000 visitors annually.
When Body Worlds began touring museums in the mid-1990s, it tapped into a curiosity in the U.S. that has probably always existed—a fascination with death and the human body.Displaying once-living people in museums brings up uncomfortable ethical questions. (Paul Stevenson, CC BY)
Adding a gloss of scientization to the dead
People are very often unsettled by seeing what were once living, breathing, human beings—people with emotions and families—turned into scientific specimens intended for public consumption. Despite whatever discomfort emerges, however, the curious appeal of medicalized body displays at public museums lingers, enough so to make them consistently appealing as fodder for popular exhibitions.
Body Worlds states “health education” is its “primary goal,” elaborating that the bodies in exhibits are posed to suggest that we as humans are “naturally fragile in a mechanized world.”
The exhibits are partially successful in achieving that mission. In tension with the message about human fragility, though, is the desire to preserve them by preventing their natural decay through technology.
With public schools cutting health programs in classrooms around the U.S., it stands to reason people might seek this kind of body knowledge elsewhere. Models are never quite as uniquely appealing as actual flesh and bone.
But while charged emotional responses have the potential to heighten curiosity, they can also inhibit learning. While museum administrators voiced concern that visitors would be horrified viewing actual human bodies on exhibit, the public has instead proven to have an almost insatiable thirst for seeing scientized dead.Inside the plastination room. (Alamy)
In the face of this popularity, museums must fully consider the special implications and problems with these exhibitions when choosing to display human bodies.
One basic concern relates to the exact origins of these bodies. Criticisms elicited an official response from von Hagens. Major ethical differences exist between exhibitions including human remains where permission has been granted in advance by the deceased or through descendants and museum displays revealing bodies of individuals offered no choice in the matter.
Spiritually sacred objects and the remains of past people present unique issues which must be dealt with sensitively and on an individual basis. Cultural and historical context is important. Consulting with living ancestors is critical.
Exhibitors also need to do more to put these displays into greater historical context for visitors. Without it, visitors might mistake artfully posed cadavers as art pieces, which they most assuredly are not.
These are all issues we will likely be grappling with for years to come. If past history is suggestive of future trends, visitors will continue to be drawn to these exhibits as long as the human body remains mysterious and alluring.
If you’ve watched Jaws or the newly released shark thriller The Shallows lately, you’d be forgiven for considering sharks as the universal symbol of human fear. Actually, our relationship with these ancient predators is long and complex: sharks are revered as gods in some cultures, while in others they embody terror of the sea. In honor of Shark Week, the Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal team decided to show how sharks have sunk their teeth into almost every aspect of our lives.
History and CultureThe Cooks Islanders in the Pacific tell the story of Ina, a maiden who rides the back of a shark, and is depicted on the 10 dollar note. (Scan donated by Tod Hunt)
From the Yucatan to the Pacific Islands, sharks play a leading role in the origin myths of many coastal societies. The half-man, half-shark Fijian warrior god Dakuwaqa is believed to be a benevolent protector of fishermen. Hawaiian folk legends tell stories of Kamohoalli’i and Ukupanipo, two shark gods that controlled the fish population, and thus determined how successful a fisherman was. In ancient Greece, paintings depict a shark-like creature known as Ketea, who embodied ravenous and insatiable hunger, while the shark-like god Lamia devoured children. Linguists believe that “shark” is the only English word to have Yucatan origins, and stems from a bastardization of the Mayan word for shark, “xoc.”
Juliet Eilperin, an author and White House bureau chief for the Washington Post, explores the long-standing human obsession with sharks in her 2012 book Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks. As humans took to the sea for trade and exploration, deadly shark encounters became a part of seafaring lore, and that fascination turned to fear. “We really had to forget they existed in order to demonize them,” Eilperin said in a 2012 SXSW Eco talk. “And so, what happened is we rediscovered them in the worst possible way, which is through seafaring.”
That fear persisted even on land: In the early 20th century trips to the shore became a national pastime, and in 1916, four people were killed by sharks on the New Jersey shore within a span of two weeks. Soon sharks had become synonymous with fear and panic.
In 1942, fear of sharks among sailors and pilots was serious enough to warrant a major Naval investigation into ways to deter their supposed threat by major research institutions, including Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the University of Florida Gainesville and the American Museum of Natural History. The endeavor produced a shark repellant known as “Shark Chaser,” which was used for nearly 30 years before ultimately being deemed useless. Shark Chaser falls in a long line of failed shark repellants: The Aztec used chili to ward away these fish, a remedy whose effectiveness has since been discredited (the Aztecs probably found that out the hard way). Today, there are a variety of chemical- or magnet-based shark repellants, but they are generally limited to one or a few species of sharks or just don’t work, as Helen Thompson wrote last year for Smithsonian.com.
In reality, sharks are the ones who need a repellent: humans are much more likely to devour them than vice versa. In China, a meal of shark fin soup has long served as a status symbol—a trend that began with Chinese emperors, but more recently spread to middle class wedding tables and banquets. The demand for sharks to make the $100-per-bowl delicacy, coupled with bycatch in other fisheries, has led to sharp declines in shark populations: a quarter of the world’s Chondrichthyes (the group that includes sharks, rays and skates) are now considered threatened by the the IUCN Red List. Yet there is hope for our toothy friends: While Hong Kong is still the leading importer of shark fins around the globe, demand and prices are dropping. New campaigns in China are attempting to curb the nation’s appetite for shark fin soup, and shark protections and regulations have increased in recent years.
ArtWatson and the Shark by John Singleton, 1776 (National Gallery of Art)
Sharks have long inspired artists from around the world, beginning with Phoenician potters working 5,000 years ago. In the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia in the mid-1700s, indigenous people decorated mortuary totem poles with elaborate woodcarvings of sharks and other sea animals. As the fur trade brought with it wealth and European tools, tribe leaders began to assert their power and status through these poles, and by 1830 a well-crafted pole was a sign of prestige. The Haida of British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Islands commonly included dogfish (a type of shark) and dogfish woman on their totem poles. Kidnapped by a dogfish man and carried out to sea, the fabled dogfish woman could transform freely between human and shark form and became a powerful symbol for people who claimed the dogfish mother as their family crest.
Around the same time as totem poles were gaining popularity in America, a shark-inspired painting had captured the fascination of the European artistic elite. In 1776, a painting called Watson and the Shark by Boston-born John Singleton Copley began making waves at London’s Royal Academy. Commissioned by Brook Watson, the painting depicted the 14-year-old Watson being attacked by a shark off the coast of Cuba—a true story which had occurred 30 years earlier, and resulted in the loss of the commissioner’s lower leg. The encounter impacted Watson deeply: when he became a baronet in 1803, he made sure to include a shark in his coat of arms.
In modern times, artists continue to be inspired by sharks, as witnessed by Damian Hirst’s innovative piece The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. Suspended in a glass tank of formaldehyde, a 13-foot tiger shark appears to be staring at viewers despite being very much dead. (The original 1991 specimen was replaced with a slightly smaller specimen in 2006 due to poor preservation and the resulting decay of the shark.) In Death Explained, a piece Hirst created in 2007, two glass-and-steel tanks display the inner anatomy of actual tiger sharks.
Science and TechnologyA magnified photograph showing the denticles of shark skin (Isurus2 via Wikicommons)
Sleek, muscular, and highly efficient swimmers, it’s no wonder that sharks provided the inspiration for GM’s 1961 Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark concept car. But sharks owe their prodigious swimming talents to more than their shape, and their lesser-known qualities have also inspired human invention. Shark skin, for instance, consists of a mosaic of tooth-shaped scales called denticles, which inspired Speedo’s Fastskin II that made headlines during the 2008 Olympics. Replicating the drag-reducing properties of the denticles in fabric has proven challenging, but current research using 3D printing technology is showing promise in other materials. Companies are implementing the ridged surfaces to increase aerodynamic efficiency in products ranging from wind turbines to boats and planes.
Think the graceful undulations of a swimming shark look cool? So did researchers at BioPower Systems, who recently developed an energy-harvesting device that converts tidal movements to power. Shaped like a shark fin that oscillates from side to side in an incoming tide, the device converts that movement into usable energy. A shark’s keen sense of smell also has technological applications: Researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory Center for Shark Research and Boston University are applying a sharks “smelling in stereo” method to robotics sensors. A shark’s nostrils are spatially separated on opposite sides of their head causing scents to be perceived at different times in relation to the direction and source of the smell. Robotic applications include the detection of an underwater chemical spill or oil leak source.
Scientists are also looking to some of sharks’ weirder and lesser-known qualities in a bid to replicate some of nature’s solutions—part of a burgeoning field called biomimicry. One is shark jelly: scientists have known since the 1960s that sharks can detect their prey with electrical sensors called ampullae of Lorenzini, named after the man who discovered them in 1679. The tubular pores that dot the faces of sharks and rays detect electrical impulses created by muscle contractions, like that of a fish’s heartbeat. Scientists recently determined that the mechanism of detection lies in a jelly-like substance within the ampullae that acts as a highly efficient proton conductor—basically a high-speed railway for electricity. The jelly could help us build new types of electrical sensors that might lead to more efficient fuel cells, a promising renewable energy source.
Even as we study sharks themselves, many human innovations have stemmed from our efforts to get away from them. Patterned wetsuits and surfboards designed to minimize unwanted encounters with sharks rely on the fact that sharks use visual cues from silhouettes of their favorite prey—seals and turtles—to make decisions on when to take a bite. Researchers are also developing a technology called Clever Buoy, which combines shark-detecting sonar software with satellite communications to create a shark warning system for beaches with active swimmers. When a shark swims by the submerged sensor, a sonar image is recognized by the computer and then a message is sent to beachgoers via lifeguards on the shore. (Too bad they didn’t have one of those in Jaws!)
HealthShark cartilage pills enjoyed a brief burst of popularity (Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose via Flickr)
People once thought sharks were immune to cancer, a long-standing myth that gave rise to a proliferation of pricey shark cartilage supplements. This myth was based on the fact that sharks have flexible cartilage skeletons instead of bones: scientists were excited by early research indicating that cartilage acts to suppress the formation of new blood vessels, a necessity for growing tumors. Unfortunately, studies have since shown sharks do in fact get cancer, and anyways, the expensive cartilage obtained from sharks is actually too large to be effectively absorbed by the human digestive system.
Yet sharks may still hold medical secrets. Dr. Michael Zaslov from Georgetown University found that shark livers contain the unique compound squalamine, an integral part of a shark’s immune system that could provide clues to new antiviral treatments. Squalamine differs from standard antivirals in that it increases the host cell’s capabilities of fighting infection rather than targeting a specific virus. The compound is shark-friendly as well: scientists have been able to synthesize the compound in a lab since 1995. Squalamine is a promising new discovery, considering the rapid adaptation and resistance to drugs in viruses like influenza, and could be used in future vaccines.
Sharks also have antibacterial properties. The same denticles that reduce drag while sharks swim also act as a natural microbial deterrent. Researchers have adapted this technique to make ridged surfaces for submarine and ship hulls in order to deter algae growth. Hospitals, too, now model their countertops and surfaces after shark skin in an effort to decrease the spread of infectious disease.
EntertainmentThe predatory nature of the shark makes them a great topic for entertainment. (Benson Kua via Flickr)
Long before Jaws, native Hawaiians took shark attacks as amusement to an extreme level. To appease the shark gods, they built gladiator-style shark pens where selected athletes were matched against an adversary shark. Think Spanish bullfights: armed with a single shark-tooth dagger, the shark warrior was offered one chance to defend himself against a charging shark. Most often the shark emerged victorious. A few athletes said to possess “akua,” or magic, however, succeeded in killing their opponents and escaped the sacrificial death.
In 1975, Jaws shocked moviegoers for its visually realistic portrayal of a rogue shark attacking beachgoers, and swiftly became a blockbuster classic. Today we continue to enjoy the thrill of watching sharks onscreen. This summer’s shark thriller is The Shallows , but other favorites that have hit the big screen include Sharknado and the annual summer television event Shark Week that has aired for the past 29 years. (Keep in mind many of the hunting behaviors portrayed in the movies are fictional, so don’t let these images stop you from enjoying your beach vacation planned for the summer.)
Increasingly, however, the emotional bond between people and sharks has moved into more positive territory. Lydia the Shark, the first great white to be recorded crossing the Atlantic, has more than 26,000 Twitter followers, and a dancer dressed in a shark costume managed to upstage Katy Perry during a Superbowl halftime show. Peaceful shark-watching has become big business around the world, even on Martha’s Vineyard where Jaws was filmed. Last summer beachgoers on nearby Cape Cod successfully rescued a beached great white shark, which serves as a heartwarming story about the ability for sharks and humans to coexist.
During the Renaissance, Florence was a wellspring of novel thinking. By mid-20th century, Bell Labs in New Jersey was rolling in patents. And, today, California’s Silicon Valley is teeming with entrepreneurial spirit.
So, where will the next hub of invention be?
Christopher M. Schroeder, an internet entrepreneur and venture investor, predicts that with increased access to technology and the connectivity that follows there will be many centers of innovation springing up worldwide, in cities large and small. In his new book, Startup Rising, he makes a strong case for the Middle East, where a surprising number of young men and women are starting tech companies and where global corporations, such as Google, Yahoo and Cisco, are investing.
This story, at least for you, starts with you attending the “Celebration of Entrepreneurship” in Dubai in 2010. What was this event like?
I was at the “Celebration of Entrepreneurship” because [I am part] of this group of American CEOs and Arab CEOs who are really trying to get to know and understand each other. This was one of the first large gatherings of startups in the Arab world, from North Africa to Yemen.
You get to this incredibly beautiful hotel in this spectacular city of Dubai that didn’t exist for all intents and purposes 15 years ago, and you would have felt as at home as if you were at any tech gathering or conference in Silicon Valley or anywhere else. It was a modern facility with people hustling and bustling, checking their mobile devices, connecting with each other, going from event to event. It was utterly familiar in what was a totally unfamiliar setting.
You argue that a new narrative is playing out in the Middle East. What is this new narrative, and how does it differ from the one that most Americans associate with the region?
I think when Americans think about the Middle East they are really thinking about political instability and sectarian violence. If you are old enough, that narrative might have started with the Iran Hostage circumstance, and certainly for all of us September 11 had a certain narrative.
But, there are other narratives going on. Where people have access to technology, they have access to communication and they have the ability to see how everyone else is living and doing things and can connect and collaborate. You have this capability of seeing opportunity and of seeing that you can make things happen, and it all can be done unbelievably affordably.
I think it is because we have such a single narrative in our minds about the region that sometimes it escapes our understanding. Of course, it is going to happen in the Middle East the way it has happened in India, Latin America, the way it has happened in Eastern Europe, the way it happens whenever anybody has access to technology.
What effect has the Arab Spring had on entrepreneurship in the region?
I went to this gathering in Dubai in 2010. So, it was shortly after the young man lit himself on fire in Tunisia, but was three months before things really heated up in Cairo. It is no surprise to me that the Arab uprisings happened when they happened, and it is no surprise to me that that which has driven people to want a new expression in politics and society also wants them to have a new creative expression in art, in music and in building businesses.
To be an entrepreneur, you have to be a little crazy, to believe you can build something that was never there before. I think in the Arab uprisings, there were a lot of people that said, “Holy cow, if Mubarak can fall, anything can happen. Maybe I can really build a business where it was never built before.” But, secondly, I think a lot of them very movingly feel that in building a business they are actually building a better society, that they are solving problems with technology in their day-to-day lives. It could be traffic, it could be crime, it could be education, and it could be creating jobs. The Arab uprising really pushed people to feel like what they were doing was not only great for themselves but also actually great for their communities, their countries and the region.
Investors and entrepreneurs are always, as you know, asking about the next “Silicon Valley.” So, is the Middle East it?
Every so often a geographic location becomes something that really changes the global dynamics. But, I think the wonder and the awesomeness of technology today is that we are going to be seeing hubs of technology and innovation all over the world. That isn’t to say that being in an ecosystem where you have a lot of smart people and people who inspire you around you doesn’t matter. You may see more of it in some great centers where people like to live and therefore great talent want to aggregate. But, I think around the world you are just going to be seeing ecosystems of innovation pop up on a regular basis in multiple locations because people can connect better and better with technology.
I saw unbelievable entrepreneurs and innovators in Egypt. I saw unbelievable entrepreneurs in Amman, Jordan, because I think the government and the young people there are really focusing on it. And, at the same time, I have seen them in Beirut and other places as well. I think the idea of there being one hub that rules it all is just not going to be as much in the calculus. Silicon Valley is the exception and not the rule.
Which heavyweight tech companies are investing in the region, and how?
A lot of the major tech companies for a long time like Microsoft, Cisco, and Intel have been in the region. The Arab world has 350 million people. A lot of growth is happening in mobile and other technologies. But what I loved and was very excited by is that some of these players and newer ones like Google not only are building their services there, but they are actually embracing the ecosystem and helping entrepreneurs to develop.
For example, Google sponsored one of the largest startup competitions in Egypt. They literally hired a bus to travel up and down the country to encourage entrepreneurs not just from Alexandria and Cairo but all around the country and gave a huge award of money. In the last six or nine months, LinkedIn and PayPal have opened up operations in the Middle East. They view their jobs as not only selling and marketing and developing their services but as really doing what they can to educate the markets about the use of e-commerce and about how to find great talent and employees.
Can you tell me about Internet, cell phone and smart phone penetration in these countries?
It ranges. Mobile penetration almost in every country certainly exceeds 50 percent. In many of these countries, like Egypt for example, it is literally over 100 percent, which means that people have more than one mobile phone. What’s exciting is that in many respects the Middle East, like other great emerging markets, has never known a world of landlines. So, they are native mobile users and thinking about how to use technology in a mobile environment.
Smartphone penetration in the [Persian] Gulf region is quite high. It is over 50 or 60 percent in some countries and probably less in a place like Egypt, where the proportion is more like 20 percent. But almost everyone I spoke to in the mobile community expects smartphones to have 50 percent penetration in Egypt in the next three years. As Marc Andreessen wrote in the foreword of my book, the world will have 5 billion smartphones in the next eight to ten years. I think in the Middle East you are going to see 50, 60 or 70 percent smartphone penetration within that time.
Is that 50 percent smartphone penetration a number that you’ve seen to be an indicator in other parts of the world? Once you hit and surpass 50 percent, is there a guaranteed spike in innovation?
I don’t think there is any question that if you look at Asia, if you look at parts of Latin America and Eastern Europe, that as greater and greater technology is available not only did you see a rise in middle class and economic output, but more and more companies that are being driven by and innovated around technology. I think there is definitely precedent for it.
When you dug into specific statistics about Internet use, what were the biggest surprises?
I would not have told you before I got into the data that the number one per capita YouTube consumer on Earth is Saudi Arabia, that the largest plurality of people watching video on YouTube in Saudi Arabia is women and the largest category of videos that they are watching is education. You stop to think about it and it makes perfect sense. If you are in a society where it isn’t easy to get an education in certain areas or the quality of education may not be everything that it could be, and at your fingertips is the ability to be able to get access to any class anywhere in the world, as more of that is starting to get translated into Arabic, it all really kind of fits. It doesn’t seem that surprising anymore.
You have interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs in the Middle East. How would you describe them? What are the demographics of this population?
The younger generation, 20s, early 30s, has never not known technology and therefore is very comfortable using it and being mobile first in terms of its innovation. A lot of the young people I met had exposure at some point to western education or the West, but hardly a majority of them.
Probably the biggest thing that hit me like a two-by-four, and in hindsight should have seemed obvious, is that at every event I went to anywhere between 35 and 40 percent of the participants were women. Again, I think a lot of the narrative in the West is to think, well, how can women be participating in this in the Middle East? The fact of the matter is I saw more women on average at a Middle East gathering than I would see on average at a Silicon Valley gathering.
You divide the entrepreneurs into three types: the Improvisers, the Problem Solvers and the Global Players. Can you explain what you mean by each?
Improvisers are taking something that is tried and true and successful elsewhere in the world and saying, how can I make this a success in the Middle East? One of the first companies that was a perfect example of this is a company named Maktoob—the Yahoo! of the Middle East that got bought by Yahoo! for almost $200 million. If you get into the Maktoob experience, it is not just Yahoo! It is not just an Arab putting in Arabic that which is in English. There are lots of sensitivities about the Arab world—cultural things and television shows, music, that is unique.
Anyone who has been to Cairo or any major city in the Middle East knows that the street traffic is mind-blowing. So, of course, a bunch of young Problem Solvers said, “Okay, that’s unacceptable. There are alternative routes. We can figure this out. We are going to create a crowdshare to be used so that people can do the best they can to navigate traffic.” There is no cab dispatching service in many cities in the Middle East so young people have built Uber-like abilities to allow you to find a cab that is near you, which of course helps you in bad traffic and, with GPS, makes you feel safer.
The Global Players are folks who realize the world is one click away so why be limited by any one market. Amr Ramadan from Alexandria, Egypt, was pitching this beautiful weather app, WeatherHD [at a startup competition]. The data it had was interesting. The user interface was interesting. The visuals of it were fantastic. As he was talking about it, I looked down at my iPad and realized I downloaded it six months earlier. I had no idea that it was 7 young people at the time—now it’s like 50—in Alexandria, Egypt, who built it. There are lots of folks who are building solutions that they think are not only interesting for a regional context. There is a wonderful woman from Beirut, Hind Hobeika, who was a college swimmer. She has invented these goggles that are almost like Google Glass; they are heart and breath monitors that are visually in your goggles. That’s not a Middle East-only solution. Any swimmer or trainer anywhere in the world would kill for these. She has manufacturing happening in Asia and distribution happening in the fall in the United States.
What measures are being taken to support entrepreneurs and help ensure their success?
The King of Jordan has helped create and put a lot of weight behind one of the great incubators in Jordan called Oasis500. That has spawned other companies, activities, competitions and gatherings. You have these amazing gatherings. They can be as large as thousands of people, at an ArabNet gathering, or hundreds of people at a mix-and-mentor gathering by Wamda.com. There are startup weekends that happen everywhere from major cities like Amman to Nazareth. There is this bottom-up movement of young people helping young people and seeking out mentors and building connectivity as well as raising capital and the other tactical necessities. It’s viral. It’s everywhere.
Of the hundreds of entrepreneurs you interviewed, whose story sticks with you the most?
Ala’ Alsallal was raised in a refugee camp in Amman and got affiliated with Ruwwad, a totally indigenous, of-the-community youth center that Aramex and Fadi Ghandour [its founder] helped create. He got exposure to computers, which just blew him away, and also got to see mentors and other business people. He got a vision.
With his natural drive and that experience, Ala’ was able to effectively start, out of a scrappy office made with his family, Jamalon, the Amazon of the Middle East, which has a real shot at being the number one online book seller in the region. He eventually got a little bit of money from Oasis500. He just got another round recently. He must be 27 years old or something. To see him come from literally a refugee community with almost no vision of a future to taking advantage of the resources is very hopeful.
In 1924, a 3-year-old child’s skull found in South Africa forever changed how people think about human origins.
The Taung Child, our first encounter with an ancient group of proto-humans or hominins called australopithecines, was a turning point in the study of human evolution. This discovery shifted the focus of human origins research from Europe and Asia onto Africa, setting the stage for the last century of research on the continent and into its “Cradles of Humankind.”
Few people back then would’ve been able to predict what scientists know about evolution today, and now the pace of discovery is faster than ever. Even since the turn of the 21st century, human origins textbooks have been rewritten over and over again. Just 20 years ago, no one could have imagined what scientists know two decades later about humanity’s deep past, let alone how much knowledge could be extracted from a thimble of dirt, a scrape of dental plaque or satellites in space.
Human fossils are outgrowing the family tree
In Africa, there are now several fossil candidates for the earliest hominin dated to between 5 and 7 million years ago, when we know humans likely split off from other Great Apes based on differences in our DNA.
Although discovered in the 1990s, publication of the 4.4 million year old skeleton nicknamed “Ardi” in 2009 changed scientists’ views on how hominins began walking.
Rounding out our new relatives are a few australopithecines, including Australopithecus deryiremeda and Australopithecus sediba, as well as a potentially late-surviving species of early Homo that reignited debate about when humans first began burying their dead.Fossils like that of Australopithecus sediba, discovered in South Africa by a 9-year-old boy, are reshaping the human family tree. (Photo by Brett Eloff. Courtesy Prof Berger and Wits University, CC BY-SA)
Perspectives on our own species have also changed. Archaeologists previously thought Homo sapiens evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago, but the story has become more complicated. Fossils discovered in Morocco have pushed that date back to 300,000 years ago, consistent with ancient DNA evidence. This raises doubts that our species emerged in any single place.
This century has also brought unexpected discoveries from Europe and Asia. From enigmatic “hobbits” on the Indonesian island of Flores to the Denisovans in Siberia, our ancestors may have encountered a variety of other hominins when they spread out of Africa. Just this year, researchers reported a new species from the Philippines.
Anthropologists are realizing that our Homo sapiens ancestors had much more contact with other human species than previously thought. Today, human evolution looks less like Darwin’s tree and more like a muddy, braided stream.The rise of biomolecular archaeology means new opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration among field- and lab-based scientists. (Christina Warinner, CC BY-ND)
Ancient DNA reveals old relationships
Many recent discoveries have been made possible by the new science of ancient DNA.
One shocking discovery is that although our lineages split up to 800,000 years ago, modern humans and Neanderthals mated a number of times during the last Ice Age. This is why many people today possess some Neanderthal DNA.The 2010 excavation in the East Gallery of Denisova Cave, where the ancient hominin species known as the Denisovans were discovered. (Bence Viola. Dept. of Anthropology, University of Toronto, CC BY-ND)
Ancient DNA is how researchers first identified the mysterious Denisovans, who interbred with us and Neanderthals. And while most studies are still conducted on bones and teeth, it is now possible to extract ancient DNA from other sources like cave dirt and 6,000-year-old chewing gum.(Mary Prendergast at National Museums of Kenya, CC BY-ND)
Biomolecules are making the invisible visible
DNA is not the only molecule revolutionizing studies of the past.
Paleoproteomics, the study of ancient proteins, can determine the species of a fossil and recently linked a 9-foot tall, 1,300-pound extinct ape that lived nearly 2 million years ago to today’s orangutans.
Dental calculus – the hardened plaque that your dentist scrapes off your teeth – is particularly informative, revealing everything from who was drinking milk 6,000 years ago to the surprising diversity of plants, some likely medicinal, in Neanderthal diets. Calculus can help scientists understand ancient diseases and how the human gut microbiome has changed over time. Researchers even find cultural clues – bright blue lapis lazuli trapped in a medieval nun’s calculus led historians to reconsider who penned illuminated manuscripts.Scientists unexpectedly found lazurite pigment in calcified plaque clinging to a 11th- to 12th-century woman’s tooth, challenging the assumption that male monks were the primary makers of medieval manuscripts. (Christina Warinner, CC BY-ND)
Researchers use collagen-based “barcodes” of different animal species to answer questions ranging from when Asian rats arrived as castaways on Africa-bound ships to what animals were used to produce medieval parchment or even to detect microbes left by a monk’s kiss on a page.
Big data is revealing big patterns
While biomolecules help researchers zoom into microscopic detail, other approaches let them zoom out. Archaeologists have used aerial photography since the 1930s, but widely available satellite imagery now enables researchers to discover new sites and monitor existing ones at risk. Drones flying over sites help investigate how and why they were made and combat looting.Archaeologists increasingly use technology to understand how sites fit into their environment and to document sites at risk. Here, a drone captured a tell (a mound indicating build-up of ancient settlements) in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. (Jason Ur, CC BY-ND)
Originally developed for space applications, scientists now use LIDAR – a remote sensing technique that uses lasers to measure distance – to map 3D surfaces and visualize landscapes here on Earth. As a result, ancient cities are emerging from dense vegetation in places like Mexico, Cambodia and South Africa.
Technologies that can peer underground from the surface, such as Ground Penetrating Radar, are also revolutionizing the field – for example, revealing previously unknown structures at Stonehenge. More and more, archaeologists are able to do their work without even digging a hole.Geophysical survey methods enable archaeologists to detect buried features without digging large holes, maximizing knowledge while minimizing destruction. (Mary Prendergast and Thomas Fitton, CC BY-ND)
Teams of archaeologists are combining big datasets in new ways to understand large-scale processes. In 2019, over 250 archaeologists pooled their findings to show that humans have altered the planet for thousands of years, for example, with a 2,000-year-old irrigation system in China. This echoes other studies that challenge the idea that the Anthropocene, the current period defined by human influences on the planet, only began in the 20th century.
New connections are raising new possibilities
These advances bring researchers together in exciting new ways. Over 140 new Nazca Lines, ancient images carved into a Peruvian desert, were discovered using artificial intelligence to sift through drone and satellite imagery. With the wealth of high-resolution satellite imagery online, teams are also turning to crowdsourcing to find new archaeological sites.
Although new partnerships among archaeologists and scientific specialists are not always tension-free, there is growing consensus that studying the past means reaching across fields.
The Open Science movement aims to makes this work accessible to all. Scientists including archaeologists are sharing data more freely within and beyond the academy. Public archaeology programs, community digs and digital museum collections are becoming common. You can even print your own copy of famous fossils from freely available 3D scans, or an archaeological coloring book in more than 30 languages.Archaeologists are increasingly reaching out to communities to share their findings, for example at this school presentation in Tanzania. ( Agness Gidna, CC BY-ND)
Efforts to make archaeology and museums more equitable and engage indigenous research partners are gaining momentum as archaeologists consider whose past is being revealed. Telling the human story requires a community of voices to do things right.
Studying the past to change our present
As new methods enable profound insight into humanity’s shared history, a challenge is to ensure that these insights are relevant and beneficial in the present and future.
Yet in so doing, archaeologists are providing empirical support for climate change and revealing how ancient peoples coped with challenging environments.
As one example, studies show that while industrial meat production has serious environmental costs, transhumance – a traditional practice of seasonally moving livestock, now recognized by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage – is not only light on the land today, but helped promote biodiversity and healthy landscapes in the past.
Archaeologists today are contributing their methods, data and perspectives toward a vision for a less damaged, more just planet. While it’s difficult to predict exactly what the next century holds in terms of archaeological discoveries, a new focus on “usable pasts” points in a positive direction.
Spanning more than a quarter of Canada’s total surface area, Québec’s geography changes drastically from south to north, moving from the forests of the humid continental south to the subarctic taiga and arctic tundra. Two mountain ranges, a fluvial plain, over a million lakes and thousands of rivers dot the landscape, and its coastline extends some 3,700 miles. Culturally, Québec is both deeply rooted in North America and fiercely proud of its French heritage. Twice the size of Texas, the province offers something for every traveler—and all five senses. Immerse yourself completely in stunning landscapes, pulsing music, rich local history, exuberant aromas and authentic local flavors, and discover what makes Québec so spectacularly unique.
SeeForesta Lumina in Parc de La Gorge de Caoticook, Eastern Townships (© TQ/D. Poulin)
Québec is spectacular in any season, but in summer its landscapes come alive and its cultural life erupts—literally. Every Wednesday and Sunday in August, international teams present pyromusical shows on the Ottawa River in Gatineau behind the Canadian Museum of History, in hopes of being crowned winner of the “Zeus” trophy. Québec City and Osisko host equally impressive firework displays.
Exhibitions abound, both indoors and outdoors. Drawing on the mythology of forests, Moment Factory has transformed Parc de la Gorge de Caoticook into one of the summer's most anticipated attractions. Dubbed Foresta Lumina, this illuminated nocturnal pathway complete with video projections and original soundtrack music leads visitors across North America’s longest suspended footbridge.
At the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, explore the region’s French heritage with "Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates The Belle Époque" or browse its encyclopedic collection of over 41,000 works. For a glimpse into the culture of Québec’s First Nations people—85,000 Amerindians and 11,500 Inuit live in some 50 communities across the province—head to the Kanesatake Pow Wow from August 27-28 in Deux-Montagnes, featuring traditional dance, song and crafts.
Halfway between Montreal and Québec City in Trois-Rivières, catch a performance from the internationally renowned entertainment group Cirque du Soleil at the stunning Amphithéâtre Cogeco. Each summer until 2019, the venue is slated to host a new show from Cirque du Soleil’s Série Hommage. This summer's opus, which runs through August 13, draws inspiration from legendary Québec singer-songwriter Robert Charlebois in a nod to the group's Québécois roots.
ListenFestival International de Jazz de Montréal (© TQ/B. Cecile)
Between its sprawling wilderness and urban cities, a rich array of sounds makes up Québec’s sonic landscape.
Music festivals are plentiful in the summertime. Head to Montreal in August for Piknic Électronik and Île Soniq, featuring electronic acts, as well as Heavy Montréal, featuring hard rock and heavy metal bands. Festival de Lanaudière, one of the most prestigious classical music events in North America featuring nationally and internationally renowned soloists, runs through the first week of August in Joliette. For an eclectic set list, do not miss Saguenay International Rhythm of the World Festival from August 10-13, a multicultural event highlighting 950 artists and artisans in the heart of Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean.
Outside of Québec's cities, its tune changes. Walk through any forest and you might hear the fleeing crash of a white-tailed deer, the scampering of foxes, porcupines, raccoons, chipmunks and red squirrels into the cover of bushes, the lumbering of moose, or the howling of wolves. Along Québec’s thousands of inland water bodies, listen to beaver tails slap on mud, black bears swat at salmon-rich streams, or the eerie call of the loon ring out across mist-covered lakes, interspersed with the low-pitched honks of Canada geese flying above.
Cruising or kayaking along the Saint Lawrence River you might hear the splash of a whale tale—fin, minke, humpback, beluga, blue, and endangered white whales all make appearances—or the surfacing of porpoises, dolphins and seals.
Up north on the tundra, snowy owl screeches ring out, caribou roam in thunderous multitudes, and ice crunches under the weight of polar bear feet.
TouchRope bridge at Via ferrata des Géants at Parc national du Fjord du Saguenay (© TQ/D. Poulin)
The Québécois embody the phrase “joie de vivre.” Whether walking through Old Québec or climbing a mountain, it is easy to feel this “zest for life” and connect with Québec's history and pristine natural environment anywhere you set foot.
History is abundant in Québec's urban centers. Feel it beneath your feet with a stroll back to Québec's beginnings or a horse-drawn carriage ride through the cobblestone streets of Old Québec, a UNESCO World Heritage site, or near Place Jacques-Cartier in Old Montréal, constructed on the ruins of a 17th-century castle. In Québec City, soak up the monumental scale of Château Frontenac hotel, a landmark of rail transportation's heyday. Built in the 19th century by William Van Horne, General Manager of Canadian Pacific Railway, it features architectural styles from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and is believed to be the most photographed hotel in the world. In Montréal, head to Kondiaronk lookout in Parc du Mont-Royal, designed by 19th-century Central Park architect Frederick Olmsted, or picnic in Parc Jean-Drapeau while gazing up at L’Homme, a larger-than-life sculpture created in 1967 by the prolific 20th-century sculptor Alexander Calder.
In 17th-century Québec, storied woodsmen known as coureurs des bois crisscrossed the region by foot and canoe to trade furs. Today, more than 200 park hiking trails allow visitors to appreciate their legacy. Trek part of the International Appalachian Trail, North America’s first long-distance hiking trail, or, if you're extra adventurous, embark on one of the handful of via ferratas—cross-canyon or rockface hiking paths made possible by steel handles or cables. Chief among them is Parc national du Mont-Tremblant's aptly named Via ferrata du Diable, or “Via ferrata of the Devil.”
To soak up Québec's coastal scenery, bike along parts of la Route Verte, a 3,100-mile cycling network, or take a boat to Mingan Archipelago National Park and admire towering monoliths sculpted by thousands of years of sea erosion. All options considered, perhaps one of the most romantic ways to connect with Québec’s wide open spaces is from a hot air balloon at the International Balloon Festival of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.
BreatheSt-Benoit Abbey, Eastern Townships (© M. Dupuis)
Wherever your Québec travels take you, fill your lungs with its unique and exuberant aromas.
As you cruise east of Québec City on the St. Lawrence River, inhale the fresh sea air as you pass the candy-cane-striped Pointe-des-Monts lighthouse, red sandstone cliffs of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine and dramatic fjords of Saguenay, among other sights.
Walking through Québec's many forests, breathe in the earthy scent of black spruce, balsam fir, birch and sugar maples. Stay overnight at a campground, or for a more active getaway, try canoe-camping at La Mauricie National Park or Gatineau Park.
If you can't make it to the outdoors, a handful of urban and suburban gardens make it easy to enjoy summertime blooms. Wander through seemingly endless fields of lavender at Bleu Lavande, the largest lavender farm in Canada and the second largest in North America with over 100,000 true lavender plants. Also notable for its size is the Montréal Botanical Garden, recognized as one of the largest botanical gardens in the world and home to some 22,000 plant species and cultivars. Explore its thirty or so themed gardens, including the First Nations Garden—honoring the relationship of Québec’s First Nations people to the land—and the largest Chinese Garden outside of China.
The Reford Gardens is both a historic and aromatic destination. Created between 1926 and 1958 by avid gardener Elsie Reford, who cultivated the rare Himalayan blue poppy, today they feature 3,000 varieties of native and exotic plants. Each year, the International Garden Festival takes place next door.
TasteCafé du Monde, Québec City (© TQ/P. Gouyou Beauchamps)
The imaginations of Québec’s local producers know no bounds. Craft beers, artisanal wines, ice ciders, terrines, cheeses and jams, smoked seafood and farmed game are just some of the terroir products Québec is famous for.
To cope with Québec's climate and rigors of everyday life, New France’s first inhabitants ate hearty meals and developed a brand of home cooking responsible for such Québec classics as tourtière (meat and pork pie), cipaille (a layered meat pie), fèves au lard (baked beans), cretons (pork spread), tarte au sucre (sugar pie) and galettes de sarrasin (buckwheat hotcakes). While most of these items are only served on special or seasonal occasions, they remain an important part of Québécois cuisine.
Be sure to try one of Québec's maple products, ranging from pomegranate and maple punch to spareribs marinated in maple water. Another must-try is poutine, a mix of French fries and curd cheese drizzled in gravy. Quebec's unofficial national dish, its popularity has inspired mouth-watering variants, like foie gras poutine and lobster poutine. No trip to Quebec is quite complete without it. Also creating buzz is Québec's ice cider—a sweet, alcoholic drink. Made from frozen apples, some describe it as a cross between ice wine and hard cider.
Québec offers a range of dining options, from bring-your-own-wine establishments (marked Apportez votre vin), food trucks and dinner cruises to farm tours, microbreweries and vineyards. Le Dieu du Ciel in Montreal is recognized by many as one of the best brewpubs in the world for its quality and variety of beers, and wine lovers will enjoy the Wine Route that connects 22 wineries in the Eastern Townships.
Danny Kean from Long Island NY, a blind tourist sets off on a Québec adventure. Discover his experience and awaken your senses:
See more and relive the highlights of his adventure in the interactive documentary.