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A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. January Theme: "Within" Volume 1 Issue 2 ISSN# 1708-3265

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Our Place 'Within' Nature
By David Suzuki PhD

We are in a time of ecological crisis. We live in an era of enormous wealth and material comfort, but it is supported by our unsustainable use and degradation of nature and its services. If we want to maintain a healthy environment and quality of life for future generations, we must change the way we see the world and our place in it.

There exists a widespread notion, which says our intelligence has freed us from the constraints of nature. Nothing could be more wrong - we just no longer recognize nature's exquisite interconnectedness. The move from small villages to big cities has estranged us from nature, the information explosion has obliterated our ability to see context, and science - in focussing on parts of nature - has exacerbated our fragmented worldview.

Nowhere is this loss more striking and, I believe, more dangerous, than in biotechnology. Biologists have acquired powerful insights and techniques for the manipulation of DNA, the genetic material. In a remarkably brief period, scientists have elucidated the entire three billion letters in a human genome. We have tools to purify, read, synthesize and insert fragments of DNA, but we have little understanding of the resultant context within which the newly inserted DNA functions.

Armed with powerful manipulative tools and unwarranted faith in our knowledge and predictive ability, we are rushing to apply this technology and raise genetically modified organisms in open fields and to rush the food and drug product into the market. We should have learned better from examples like DDT and CFCs and the unexpected consequences of applied biotechnology itself.

Perhaps the most destructive agent of our sense of interconnectedness is economics. Economists assume when resources are exhausted, human intelligence and creativity will always enable us to exploit or create new materials. Thus, in conventional economics, the ozone layer, underground water aquifers, topsoil, or biodiversity are considered "externalities" which are irrelevant within the economic construct, even though these are all finite and crucial to human survival and health.

Economists also tell us that, unlike other species whose numbers are limited by the productivity of a given ecosystem, humans can exceed the "carrying capacity" of a region because of trade. So Canadians can trade abundant wheat, trees and fossil fuels with other countries who have cotton, bananas, or coffee, thereby enabling both populations to exceed the natural limits to growth within their respective regions.

Ecologist Bill Rees sees a flaw in the proposition because, while we may import food, for example, land somewhere was still required to grow it. He created a measurement called the "ecological footprint"; which is the total area of land required to provide the food, clothing, absorption of wastes, etc., for each of us in a year. He finds the collective impact of all Canadians is more than four times the total useable land area of Canada!

In fact, the ecological footprint of most countries exceeds their land base. Instead of living on nature's interest - the margin of excess productivity which can be exploited without diminishing the whole - we are using up the natural capital of clean air, water, soil and biodiversity upon which we depend.

I am often asked, "What is the most urgent environmental problem confronting us?" My answer is the human mind, and the beliefs and values it clings to. Where once we understood we are dependent on and interconnected with the rest of nature, the modern mentality believes we have escaped this reality. Our big-city lifestyles, the fragmented explosion of information, the very nature of scientific reductionism, and the assumptions underlying modern economics all shatter the sense of interconnectedness and blind us to the consequences of our actions. Our most urgent challenge, therefore, is to rediscover our place in the natural world.

David T. Suzuki PhD, the Chair of the David Suzuki Foundation, is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. David has received consistently high acclaim for his thirty years of award-winning work in broadcasting; explaining the complexities of science in a compelling, easily understood way. He is well known to millions as the host of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's popular science television series, The Nature of Things. Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

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