Transcript: Ronald Wright on A Short History of Progress | Feb 12, 2005

Ronald Wright stands on a stage in a dimly lit auditorium and addresses an unseen audience.
Ronald is in his sixties, clean-shaven, with short white hair. He's wearing rounded glasses, a black suit, green shirt, and matching striped tie.

He says THE COLLAPSE
OF THE FIRST CIVILIZATION ON
EARTH, THAT OF THE SUMERIANS IN
WHAT IS NOW SOUTHERN IRAQ,
EFFECTED ONLY HALF A MILLION
PEOPLE.
THE FALL OF ROME EFFECTED TENS
OF MILLIONS.
AND IF OURS WERE TO FAIL IT
WOULD OF COURSE BRING
CATASTROPHE ON BILLIONS.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Ronald Wright. Author, 'A short history of progress.' The rebellion of the tools. CBC Massey Lecture. November 19, 2004."

Ronald continues SO FAR IN
THESE TALKS I'VE LOOKED AT
FOUR, ANCIENT SOCIETIES, SUMER,
ROME, THE MAYA AND EASTER
ISLAND, WHICH IN ROUGHLY 1,000
YEARS EACH WORE OUT THEIR
WELCOME FROM NATURE AND COLLAPSED.
I'VE ALSO MENTIONED TWO EXCEPTIONS, EGYPT
AND CHINA WHO ACHIEVED A RUN OF
3,000 YEARS OR MORE.
IN HIS BOOK ON PAST COLLAPSES,
JOSEPH TAINTER NICKNAMES THREE
KINDS OF TROUBLE.
THE RUNAWAY TRAIN, THE DINOSAUR
AND THE HOUSE OF CARDS.
THESE USUALLY ACT TOGETHER.
THE SUMERIANS IRRIGATION WAS
CERTAINLY A RUNAWAY TRAIN, A
DISASTROUS COURSE, FROM WHICH
THEY COULD NOT DEVIATE.
THEIR RULERS FAILURE TO TACKLE
THE PROBLEM QUALIFIES THEM AS
DINOSAURS AND THE
CIVILIZATION'S SWIFT AND
IRREPARABLE FALL SHOWS IT TO
HAVE BEEN A HOUSE OF CARDS.
MUCH THE SAME CAN BE SAID OF
THE OTHER FAILURES.
WE ARE FACED BY SOMETHING
DEEPER THAN MISTAKES AT ANY
PARTICULAR TIME OR PLACE.
THE INVENTION OF AGRICULTURE IS
ITSELF A RUNAWAY TRAIN LEADING
TO VASTLY EXPANDED POPULATIONS
BUT SELDOM SOLVING THE FOOD
PROBLEM BECAUSE OF TWO
INEVITABLE OR NEARLY INEVITABLE
CONSEQUENCES.
THE FIRST IS BIOLOGICAL.
THE POPULATION GROWS UNTIL IT
HITS THE BOUNDS OF THE FOOD
SUPPLY.
THE SECOND IS SOCIAL.
ALL CIVILIZATIONS BECOME
HIERARCHICAL.
THE UPWARD CONCENTRATION OF
WEALTH ENSURES THAT THERE CAN
NEVER BE ENOUGH TO GO AROUND.
THOMAS MELFE HAS EXPLORED THE
FIRST DILEMMA AND THINKERS FROM
CHRIST TO MARX HAVE TOUCHED ON
THE SECOND.
AS THE CHINESE SAYING HAS IT,
THE PEASANT MUST STAND A LONG
TIME ON THE HILLSIDE WITH HIS
MOUTH OPEN BEFORE A ROAST DUCK
FLIES IN.

[Audience laughs]

Ronald continues CIVILIZATION
IS AN EXPERIMENT, A VERY RECENT
WAY OF LIFE IN THE HUMAN
CAREER.
AND IT HAS A HABIT OF WALKING
INTO WHAT I'M CALLING PROGRESS
TRAPS.
A SMALL VILLAGE ON GOOD LAND
BESIDE A RIVER IS A GOOD IDEA.
BUT WHEN THE VILLAGE GROWS INTO
A CITY AND PAVES OVER THE GOOD
LAND IT BECOMES A BAD IDEA.
WHILE PREVENTION MIGHT HAVE
BEEN EASY, A CURE MAY BE
IMPOSSIBLE.
THIS HUMAN INABILITY TO FORESEE
LONG, RANGE CONSEQUENCES MAYBE
INHERENT TO OUR KIND, SHAPED BY
THE MILLIONS OF YEARS WHEN WE
LIVED HAND TO MOUTH BY HUNTING
AND GATHERING.
IT MAY ALSO BE LITTLE MORE THAN
A MIX OF INERTIA, GREED AND
FOOLISHNESS ENCOURAGED BY THE
SHAPE OF THE SOCIAL PYRAMID.
THE CONCENTRATION OF POWER AT
THE TOP OF LARGE, SCALE
SOCIETIES GIVES THE ELITE A
VESTED INTEREST IN THE STATUS
QUO.
THEY CONTINUE TO PROSPER IN
DARKENING TIMES, LONG AFTER THE
ENVIRONMENT AND GENERAL
POPULOUS BEGIN TO SUFFER.
YET DESPITE THE WRECKAGE OF
PAST CIVILIZATIONS LITTERING
EUROPE, THE OVERALL EXPERIMENT
OF CIVILIZATION HAS CONTINUED
TO SPREAD AND GROW.
THE NUMBERS IN SO FAR AS THEY
CAN BE ESTIMATED BREAK DOWN
ROUGHLY AS FOLLOWS.
A WORLD POPULATION OF
200,000,000 OR SO AT ROME'S
HEIGHT IN THE SECOND CENTURY
A.D.
ABOUT 400,000,000 BY THE YEAR
1500 WHEN EUROPE REACHED THE
AMERICAS.
ONE BILLION BY 1825, AT THE
START OF THE COAL AGE.
TWO BILLION BY 1925, WHEN THE
OIL AGE GETS UNDERWAY AND SIX
BILLION BY THE YEAR 2000.
EVEN MORE STARTLING THAN THE
GROWTH IS THE ACCELERATION.
ADDING 200,000,000 AFTER ROME
TOOK 13 CENTURIES.
ADDING THE LATEST 200,000,000
TOOK THREE YEARS.
WE TEND TO REGARD OUR AGE AS
EXCEPTIONAL AND IN MANY WAYS IT
IS.
BUT THE PAROCHIALISM OF THE
PRESENT, THE WAY OUR EYES
FOLLOW THE BALL AND NOT THE
GAME IS DANGEROUS.
ABSORBED IN THE HERE AND NOW WE
LOSE SIGHT OF OUR COURSE
THROUGH TIME, FORGETTING TO
ASK OURSELVES PAUL GAUGIN'S
FINAL QUESTION.
WHERE ARE WE GOING?
IF SO MANY PREVIOUS AGES RAN
INTO NATURAL LIMITS AND
CRASHED, HOW HAS OUR RUNAWAY
TRAIN IF THAT'S WHAT IT IS,
BEEN ABLE TO KEEP ON GATHERING
SPEED?
I SUGGESTED EARLIER THAT THE
CHINESE AND EGYPTIAN
CIVILIZATIONS WERE
EXCEPTIONALLY LONG LIVED
BECAUSE NATURE GAVE THEM LAVISH
SUBSIDIES OF EXTRA TOPSOIL --
BROUGHT IN BY WIND AND WATER FROM ELSEWHERE.
BUT SOME CREDIT MUST GO TO
HUMAN INGENUITY.
THE NUMBER OF MOUTHS A NATURE
OF LAND CAN SUPPORT --
AND THE LENGTH OF TIME IT CAN GO ON
SUPPORTING THEM DOESN'T DEPEND
ONLY ON NATURAL FERTILITY.
CIVILIZATION DID GET BETTER AT
FARMING AS IT WENT ALONG.
CROP ROTATION AND THE USE OF
GREEN MANURE, THE PLOWING UNDER
OF NITROGEN FIXING PLANTS
RAISED YIELDS CONSIDERABLY IN
EARLY, MODERN TIMES.
THE ASIAN DEVELOPMENT OF WET
RICE CULTIVATION WAS HIGHLY
PRODUCTIVE AND ITS PRECISELY
LEVELED PATTY FIELDS ENCOURAGED
SUSTAINABLE TILLAGE ON
HILLSIDES.
THE ISLAMIC CIVILIZATION OF
SPAIN NOT ONLY HANDED DOWN
CLASSICAL LEARNING TO LATE,
MEDIEVAL EUROPE, IT ALSO HEALED
THE STRICKEN LANDSCAPE ROME HAD
LEFT BEHIND BY BUILDING OLIVE
TERRACES AND ADVANCED
IRRIGATION SCHEMES.
IN THE ANDES THE INCAS AND PRE-
INCAS BUILT AN EFFICIENT
MOUNTAIN AGRICULTURE ON FLIGHTS
OF STONE TERRACES WATERED BY
GLACIAL STREAMS AND FERTILIZED
WITH GUANO, WHICH THEY MINED
FROM ANCIENT SEABIRD ROOKERIES
ON ARID, COASTAL ISLANDS.
STUDIES OF ANDEAN TERRACING IN
USE FOR THE PAST 1500 YEARS
SHOWED NO LOSS OF FERTILITY.
SUCH STEADY IMPROVEMENTS IN
FARMING METHODS CAN EXPLAIN A
STEADY RISE IN POPULATION, BUT
NOT THE GREAT BOOM OF THE PAST
FEW CENTURIES.
MECHANIZATION AND SANITATION
MAY ACCOUNT FOR LATER STAGES OF
THE BOOM, BUT NOT IT'S
BEGINNINGS, WHICH PRE-DATE FARM
MACHINERY AND PUBLIC HEALTH.
THE TAKEOFF POINT WAS ABOUT ONE
CENTURY AFTER COLUMBUS.
AND THIS WAS WHEN THE STRANGE
FRUITS OF THE SPANISH CONQUEST
BEGAN TO BE DIGESTED.
EUROPE RECEIVED THE GREATEST
SUBSIDY OF ALL, WHEN HALF A
PLANET FULLY DEVELOPED BUT
ALMOST UNPROTECTED FELL
SUDDENLY INTO ITS HANDS.
IF AMERICA HAD BEEN A
WILDERNESS THE INVADERS
WOULDN'T HAVE GOT MUCH OUT OF
IT FOR A LONG TIME.
EVERY FIELD WOULD HAVE HAD TO
BE WON FROM THE FOREST.
EVERY CROP IMPORTED AND
ADAPTED.
EVERY MINE DISCOVERED.
EVERY ROAD CUT ACROSS TRACKLESS
DESERT AND RANGES.
BUT THIS UNKNOWN WORLD HAD, HAD
ITS OWN NEOLITHIC REVOLUTION
AND HAD BUILT A SERIES OF
CIVILIZATIONS ON A RICH,
AGRARIAN BASE.
THE THREE AMERICAS, NORTH,
CENTRAL AND SOUTH FORM A COMPLEX
WORLD MUCH LIKE ASIA.
TEEMING WITH 80 TO 100,000,000
PEOPLE.
BETWEEN A FIFTH AND A FOURTH OF
THE HUMAN RACE IN 1492.
THE MOST POWERFUL POLITIES WERE
THE AZTEC EMPIRE.
A CITY, STATE SYSTEM DOMINATED
BY THE CONURBATION KNOWN AS
MEXICO.
AND THE INCA EMPIRE STRETCHING
3,000 MILES DOWN THE SPINE OF
THE ANDES AND PACIFIC COAST.
EACH OF THESE HAD ROUGHLY
20,000,000 PEOPLE, WHICH PUTS
THEM MIDWAY IN THE SCALE
BETWEEN ANCIENT EGYPT AND
ANCIENT ROME.
WITH A QUARTER OF A MILLION
CITIZENS, THE AZTEC CAPITOL WAS
THE BIGGEST CITY IN THE
AMERICAS AND ONE OF THE HALF
DOZEN BIGGEST IN THE WORLD.
THE INCA EMPIRE WAS LESS URBAN
BUT TIGHTLY ORGANIZED, WITH
PAVED ROADS, A COMMAND ECONOMY,
AND VAST TERRACING AND
IRRIGATION PROJECTS BUILT BY A
LABOUR TAX SYSTEM RATHER THAN
SLAVERY.
THOUGH HARDLY A WORKER'S
PARADISE IT SOON BEGAN TO LOOK
LIKE ONE TO SURVIVORS UNDER
SPANISH RULE.
BOTH THESE EMPIRES WERE YOUNG,
THE ERRORS OF OTHERS.
AND MIGHT HAVE HAD CENTURIES
AHEAD OF THEM IF NO OUTSIDERS
HAD ARRIVED.
BUT THEY AWAITED INTRUDERS LIKE
ORCHARDS OF RIPE FRUIT.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORIANS
ALFRED CROSBY AND WILLIAM
MCNEIL, SHOWED IN THE 1970S
THAT THE NEW WORLD'S TRUE
CONQUERORS WERE GERMS.
MASS KILLERS SUCH AS SMALLPOX,
MEASLES AND BUBONIC PLAGUE.
THESE ARRIVED FOR THE FIRST
TIME WITH THE EUROPEANS WHO HAD
RESISTANCE TO THEM, AND ACTED
LIKE BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS KILLING
THEIR RULERS AND AT LEAST HALF
THE POPULATIONS OF MEXICO AND
PERU IN THE FIRST WAVE.
CROSBY WROTE, THE MIRACULOUS
TRIUMPHS OF THE CONQUISTADORS
ARE IN LARGE PART THE TRIUMPHS
OF THE SMALLPOX VIRUS.
DESPITE THEIR GUNS AND HORSES,
THE SPANIARDS DID NOT ACHIEVE
ANY MAJOR CONQUESTS ON THE
MAINLAND UNTIL AFTER A SMALLPOX
PANDEMIC HAD SWEPT THROUGH.
BEFORE THAT, THE MAYA, AZTECS,
INCAS, AND FLORIDIANS ALL
REPELLED THE FIRST EFFORTS TO
INVADE THEM.
SOME YEARS AGO THE PENTAGON --
CAME UP WITH PLANS FOR A, A STRANGE, LOVELY,
YOUNG WEAPON CALLED THE NEUTRON
BOMB, TO BE LET OFF HIGH OVER
RUSSIAN CITIES SO THAT A
SEARING BLAST OF RADIATION
WOULD KILL ALL THE PEOPLE --
BUT LEAVE THE PROPERTY UNHARMED.
THE EUROPEAN INVADERS OF
AMERICA HAD A WEAPON OF EXACTLY
THIS EFFECT IN DISEASE.
LET NOBODY SAY THE NEW WORLD
WENT DOWN WITHOUT A FIGHT.
THE BATTLES FOR MEXICO AND
CUZCO WERE AMONG THE HARDEST
EVER FOUGHT.
BUT ONCE THE EPIDEMIOLOGICAL
VEIL WAS TORN, THE PEOPLE
BECAME TOO FEW TO DEFEND WHAT
THEIR ANCESTORS HAD BUILT UP
FOR 10,000 YEARS.
THEY DIED IN HEAPS LIKE
BEDBUGS, WROTE A SPANISH FLYER
IN MEXICO.
EXCEPT FOR THE GREAT PLAINS AND
COLD REGIONS, EVEN NORTH
AMERICA WAS NOT WILD IN 1500.
HOLLYWOOD MAY HAVE PERSUADED US
THAT THE TYPICAL INDIAN WAS A
NOMADIC HUNTER.
BUT IN TRUTH, ALL TEMPERATE
ZONES OF THE UNITED STATES FROM
THE SOUTHWEST TO THE SOUTHEAST
AND NORTH TO MISSOURI, OHIO AND
THE GREAT LAKES WERE THICKLY
SETTLED BY FARMING PEOPLES.
WHEN THE PILGRIMS ARRIVED IN
MASSACHUSETTS, THE INDIANS HAD
DIED OUT SO RECENTLY THAT THE
WHITES FOUND EMPTY HOUSES,
WINTER CORN AND CLEARED FIELDS
WAITING FOR THEIR USE.
A FORETOKEN OF THE SETTLERS
PARASITIC ADVANCE ACROSS THE
CONTINENT.
EUROPEANS DID NOT FIND A
WILDERNESS HERE, AMERICAN
HISTORIAN FRANCES JENNINGS HAS
WRITTEN, THEY MADE ONE.
FOR THE SPANISH DISEASE WAS A
BETTER WEAPON THAN A NEUTRON
BOMB, BECAUSE JUST ENOUGH AMER-
INDIANS SURVIVED TO WORK THE
MINES.
THE AZTEC AND INCA TREASURES
WERE ONLY A DOWN PAYMENT ON ALL
THE GOLD AND SILVER THAT WOULD
FLOW ACROSS THE ATLANTIC FOR
CENTURIES.
KARL MARX WAS AMONG THE FIRST
ECONOMISTS TO SEE THAT
FINANCIALLY THE INDUSTRIAL
REVOLUTION BEGINS WITH
ATAHUALPA'S GOLD.
AN INDISPENSABLE CONDITION FOR
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF
MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY, HE
WROTE IN 1847, WAS THE
DISCOVERY OF AMERICA AND THE
IMPORTATION OF ITS PRECIOUS
METALS.
THE BANKERS WHO UNDERWROTE
SPAIN'S EMPIRE WERE AWASH IN
BULLION.
MUCH FOUND ITS WAY TO NORTHERN
EUROPE, FINANCING SHIPBUILDING,
GUN FOUNDRIES AND OTHER
IMPERIAL VENTURES.
MUCH ALSO WENT ON EUROPEAN WARS
AND WARS BETWEEN PEERS ARE
MOTHERS OF INVENTION.
IN A WAY MAO TSE TUNG DIDN'T
INTEND POWER WOULD INDEED GROW
FROM THE BARREL OF A GUN.
FROM THE CANONS REEKING TUBE
DESCENDS THE CYLINDER OF THE
STEAM AND PETROL ENGINES.
GOLD AND SILVER FORMED JUST ONE
SIDE OF A TRANSATLANTIC
TRIANGLE OF LOOT, LAND, AND
LABOUR.
THE NEW WORLD'S WIDOWED ACRES
AND ABOVE ALL ITS CROPS WOULD
PROVE FAR MORE VALUABLE IN THE
LONG RUN.
AT THEIR THANKSGIVING DINNERS
DEVOUT AMERICANS THANK THEIR
GOD FOR FEEDING THEM IN A
WILDERNESS.
THEY THEN DEVOUR A HUGE MEAL OF
TURKEY, MAIZE, BEANS, SQUASH,
PUMPKIN AND POTATOES.
ALL THESE FOODS UNKNOWN TO PRE-
COLOMBIAN EUROPE AND PRESUMABLY
ITS GOD HAVE BEEN DEVELOPED
OVER THOUSANDS OF YEARS BY NEW
WORLD CIVILIZATIONS.
IT'S ALSO HARD TO IMAGINE CURRY
TWO CHILES.
ITALIAN FOOD WITHOUT NO
TOMATOES, THE SWISS WITH NO
CHOCOLATE, AND THE BRITISH WITH
FISH BUT NO CHIPS.

[Audience laughs]

Ronald continues BESIDES THEIR
EFFECT ON DIET, THE NEW CROPS
BROUGHT A DRAMATIC RISE IN
OUTPUT IN AFRICA, IN ASIA, AS
WELL AS IN EUROPE.
MAIZE AND POTATOES ARE ABOUT
TWICE AS PRODUCTIVE AS WHEAT
AND BARLEY.
POPULATIONS ROSE AND LARGE
NUMBERS OF PEOPLE LEFT THE
FARM, GENERATING LABOUR
SURPLUSES FROM BRITAIN TO THE
GOLD COAST.
IN THE NORTH THESE PEOPLE ENDED
UP IN MILLS AND FACTORIES.
WHILE IN AFRICA THEY BECAME
FOREIGN EXCHANGE FOR
MANUFACTURED GOODS, ESPECIALLY
GUNS.
LATER EUROPE ALSO BEGAN
EXPORTING SURPLUS PEOPLE TO
FILL THE PRAIRIES AND THE
PAMPAS.
WITH THE INVENTION OF FARM
MACHINERY THE OLD WORLD GRAINS
BECAME LESS, LABOUR INTENSIVE.
AND WITH THE REDISCOVERY AND
WORLDWIDE USE OF GUANO, ANOTHER
GIFT OF INCA AGRICULTURE, CROP
YIELDS SOARED.
AND WHEN THE GUANO DEPOSITS AND
OTHER NATURAL FERTILIZERS WERE
EXHAUSTED, COMMERCIAL FARMING
BECAME ALMOST ENTIRELY
DEPENDENT ON CHEMICAL
FERTILIZERS MADE FROM OIL AND
GAS.
FOSSIL ENERGY NOT ONLY POWERS
BUT FEEDS THE MODERN WORLD.
WE ARE ACTUALLY EATING OIL.
WE WILL NEVER KNOW WHEN, WHERE OR EVEN
WHETHER THE INDUSTRIAL
REVOLUTION WOULD HAVE HAPPENED
HAD AMERICA NOT EXISTED.
MY GUESS IS THAT IT WOULD, BUT
LATER AND MORE GRADUALLY.
IT MIGHT HAVE
BEGUN IN CHINA RATHER THAN
EUROPE OR IN BOTH.
BUT THAT'S FOR THE, WHAT IF
SCHOOL OF HISTORY.
ALL WE CAN SAY IS THAT THINGS
WOULD HAVE BEEN VERY DIFFERENT.
SO, THE WORLD WE HAVE TODAY IS
THE GIFT OF THE NEW WORLD.
THE AMERICAS THEN REALLY WERE
EL DORADO AND THEY WERE ALSO
UTOPIA.
EARLY REPORTS OF AMAZONIAN
SOCIETIES INFLUENCED SIR THOMAS
MORE'S BOOK OF THAT NAME
PUBLISHED IN 1516.
A CENTURY LATER THE BESTSELLING
WRITER GARCILASO DE LA VEGA,
WHO WAS HALF INCA PROMOTED HIS
MOTHER'S FALLEN EMPIRE AS THE
IDEAL STATE.
IN NORTH AMERICA THE INFLUENCE
WAS MUCH MORE DIRECT, A MATTER
OF DAILY EXAMPLE.
THE EARLY FRONTIER CULTURE WAS
A HYBRID, A PLACE WHERE INDIANS
GREW ORCHARDS AND WHITES TOOK
UP SCALPING.
SETTLERS FOUGHT, TRADED AND
INTER-MARRIED WITH SELF-
GOVERNING NATIVE PEOPLES WHO
PRACTICED SOCIAL EQUALITY, FREE
DEBATE AND COUNSEL AND THE RULE
OF CONSENSUS.
THEIR WHOLE CONSTITUTION BREEDS
NOTHING BUT LIBERTY, WROTE
JAMES ADAIR OF THE CHEROKEES IN
1775.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN MADE SIMILAR
OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE IROQUOIS
CONFEDERACY, WHICH HE URGED THE
13 COLONIES TO EMULATE.
THE WHITES WERE PARTICULARLY
IMPRESSED BY THE WAY DESCENDERS
WOULD SIMPLY LEAVE THE REST OF
THEIR NATION AND FORM AN
INDEPENDENT GROUP.
HERE, SPREAD BEFORE THE EYES OF
COLONISTS, RESENTFUL OF A
DISTANT CROWN WERE FREEDOM,
DEMOCRACY AND THE RIGHT OF
SUCCESSION.
IT WAS AND STILL IS NOT WELL,
KNOWN THAT THOSE NATIVE
DEMOCRACIES WERE LARGELY A
POST-COLOMBIAN DEVELOPMENT,
BOOMING IN THE OPEN SPACES LEFT
BY THE GREAT DYING OF THE
1500S.
MOST OF THE EASTERN FARMING
TRIBES WERE REMNANTS OF ONCE
POWERFUL CHIEFDOMS.
HAD THE ENGLISH COME TO AMERICA
BEFORE ITS DEMOGRAPHIC COLLAPSE
THEY WOULD HAVE FOUND A MORE
FAMILIAR SOCIAL STRUCTURE.
LORDS WHO LIVED IN GREAT HOUSES
ATOP 100 FOOT EARTHEN PYRAMIDS,
WHO CARRIED ABOUT ON LITTERS
AND WERE BURIED WITH SLAVES AND
CONCUBINES.
THE SMALLPOX VIRUS HAVING
OVERTHROWN SUCH SOCIETIES ALONG
WITH THE AZTEC AND INCA EMPIRES
THEREFORE PLAYED A PRECURSORY
ROLE IN THE AMERICAN
REVOLUTION.
MOST UPRISINGS ARE SPARKED BY
WANT.
THE AMERICAN REBELS WERE
INSPIRED BY PLENTY, BY INDIAN
LAND AND INDIAN IDEALS.
IN MORE THAN ONE WAY BENJAMIN
FRANKLIN'S COUNTRYMEN BECAME AS
HE CALLED THEM, WHITE SAVAGES.
THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION IN TURN
INFLUENCED THE FRENCH
REVOLUTION, WHICH HAD ITS OWN
WHITE SAVAGERY KNOWN AS THE
TERROR.
GOVERNMENTS KEEN TO AVOID MORE
OF THE SAME BEGAN BROADENING
THE FRANCHISE THROUGHOUT THE
FOLLOWING CENTURY.
A MEASURE OF PARTICIPATION
FILTERED GRUDGINGLY DOWN, THE
SOCIAL PYRAMID, WHILE THE NEW
INDUSTRIAL ECONOMY NOURISHED
THE GROWING, MIDDLE CLASS.
WE IN THE LUCKY COUNTRIES OF
THE WEST NOW REGARD OUR TWO-
CENTURY BUBBLE OF FREEDOM AND
AFFLUENCE AS NORMAL AND
INEVITABLE.
IT'S EVEN BEEN CALLED THE END
OF HISTORY IN BOTH A TEMPORAL
AND THEOLOGICAL SENSE.
YET THIS NEW ORDER IS AN
ANOMALY.
THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT NORMALLY
HAPPENS AS CIVILIZATIONS GROW.
SO OUR AGE WAS BANKROLLED BY
THE SEIZING OF HALF A PLANET,
EXTENDED BY TAKING OVER MOST OF
THE REMAINING HALF AND
SUSTAINED BY SPENDING DOWN NEW
FORMS OF NATURAL CAPITAL,
ESPECIALLY FOSSIL FUEL.
IN THE NEW WORLD THE WEST HIT
THE BIGGEST BONANZA OF ALL
TIME, AND THERE WON'T BE
ANOTHER LIKE IT.
NOT UNLESS WE FIND THE
CIVILIZED MARTIANS OF H.G.
WELLS, COMPLETE WITH THE
VULNERABILITY TO OUR GERMS THAT
UNDID THEM IN HIS "WAR OF THE
WORLDS."
THE EXPERIMENT OF CIVILIZATION
HAS LONG HAD ITS DOUBTERS.
THE TALES OF ICARUS,
PROMETHEUS, AND PANDORA,
ILLUSTRATE THE RISKS OF BEING
TOO CLEVER BY HEART, A THEME
ALSO KNOWN TO GENESIS.
PERHAPS THE MOST INSIGHTFUL
ANCIENT STORY OF THIS KIND,
PARTICULARLY AS IT COMES FROM A
CIVILIZATION THAT HAS SUFFERED
COLLAPSE, IS THE REBELLION OF
THE TOOLS IN THE MAYA CREATION
EPIC, "THE PAPAL VOUS," WHERE
HUMAN BEINGS ARE OVERTHROWN BY
THEIR FARM AND HOUSEHOLD
IMPLEMENTS.
AND ALL THOSE
THINGS BEGAN TO SPEAK.
YOU SHALL FEEL OUR STRENGTH.
WE SHALL GRIND AND TEAR YOUR
FLESH --
TO PIECES SAID THEIR GRINDING STONES.
AT THE SAME, TIME THEIR
GRIDDLES AND POTS SPOKE UP.
PAIN AND SUFFERING YOU HAVE
CAUSED US.
YOU BURNED US AS IF WE FELT NO
PAIN.
NOW YOU SHALL FEEL IT.
WE SHALL BURN YOU.
AS THE CUBAN WRITER ALEJO
CARPENTIER POINTED OUT, THIS IS
OUR FIRST EXQUISITE WARNING OF
THE THREAT IN THE MACHINE.
SUCH WARNINGS BECAME COMMON IN
THE 19TH CENTURY, WHEN FOR THE
FIRST TIME EVER WRENCHING
TECHNICAL AND SOCIAL CHANGE WAS
FELT WITHIN A SINGLE LIFETIME.
MARY SHELLEY PONDERED THE NEW
SCIENCE WITH HER
"FRANKENSTEIN."
AND CHARLES DICKENS GAVE THE
SOCIAL COSTS OF INDUSTRY A
SCOLDING AND PRESCIENT CRITIQUE
IN "HARD TIMES," FORESEEING THE
NEW RELIGION OF THE BOTTOM
LINE.
EVERY INCH OF THE EXISTENCE OF
MANKIND FROM BIRTH TO DEATH, HE
WROTE IN 1854, WAS TO BE A
BARGAIN ACROSS A COUNTER.
IN HIS 1872 NOVEL, "EREHWON."
SAMUEL BUTLER CREATED A REMOTE
CIVILIZATION THAT HAD
INDUSTRIALIZED LONG BEFORE
EUROPE, BUT WHERE THE EFFECTS
OF PROGRESS SPARKED A LUDDITE
REVOLUTION.
THE GREAT DANGER WROTE AN
"EREHWON" RADICAL WAS NOT SO
MUCH THE EXISTING MACHINES AS
THE SPEED AT, WHICH THEY WERE
REVOLVING.
IF NOT STOPPED IN TIME THEY
MIGHT DEVELOP LANGUAGE,
REPRODUCE THEMSELVES AND
SUBJUGATE MANKIND.
BUTLER WAS SENDING UP DARWINISM
HERE.
BUT THE ANXIETIES STIRRED BY
THE PANTING MONSTERS OF THE
STEAM AGE WERE REAL ENOUGH.
YEARS BEFORE HE BECAME PRIME
MINISTER, THE YOUNG BENJAMIN
DISRAELI HAD ANTICIPATED
"ARAGWAN'S" FEARS IN HIS NOVEL
"CONINGSBY."
AS THE VICTORIAN AGE RUSHED ON
MANY WRITERS BEGAN TO ASK WHERE
ARE WE GOING?
IF SO MUCH WAS HAPPENING SO
QUICKLY IN THEIR CENTURY WHAT
MIGHT HAPPEN IN THE NEXT?
BUTLER, WELLS, WILLIAM MORRIS,
AND MANY OTHERS MIXED FANTASY
WITH SATIRE AND ALLEGORY, TO
CREATE A GENRE KNOWN AS THE
SCIENTIFIC ROMANCE.
IN "THE TIME MACHINE" OF 1895
WELLS SENT A TRAVELLER TO A
DISTANT FUTURE, WHERE THE HUMAN
RACE HAS SPLIT INTO TWO
SPECIES, THE ELOI AND THE
MORLOCKS.
THE ELOI ARE A CYBERITIC UPPER
CLASS LIVING BRAINLESSLY ON THE
INDUSTRIAL TOIL OF THE
MORLOCKS.
NEVER GUESSING THAT THESE
UNDERGROUND SUB-HUMANS,
SEEMINGLY THEIR SLAVES ARE IN
FACT RAISING THEM FOR MEAT.
IN HIS "NEWS FROM NOWHERE."
WILLIAM MORRIS PERHAPS BETTER
KNOWN NOWADAYS FOR WALLPAPER,
DREAMT UP A POST-INDUSTRIAL NEW
AGE.
A UTOPIA OF HONEST WORKMANSHIP
AND FREE LOVE, FROM WHICH HE
ATTACKED THE FIRST GREAT WAVE
OF GLOBALIZATION, THE WORLD
MARKET RULED BY THE STEAMSHIP,
THE TELEGRAPH AND THE BRITISH.
THE HAPPINESS OF THE WORKMAN AT
HIS WORK, HIS MOST ELEMENTARY
COMFORT AND BARE HEALTH DID NOT
WEIGH A GRAIN OF SAND IN THE
BALANCE AGAINST THIS DIRE
NECESSITY OF CHEAP PRODUCTION
OF THINGS, A GREAT PART OF
WHICH WERE NOT WORTH PRODUCING
AT ALL.
THE WHOLE COMMUNITY WAS CAST
INTO THE JAWS OF THIS RAVENING
MONSTER, THE WORLD MARKET.
WHILE WE MAY LEARN FROM THE
PAST WE DON'T SEEM TO LEARN
MUCH.
THAT LAST GENERATION BEFORE THE
FIRST WORLD WAR WAS IN MANY
WAYS A TIME LIKE OURS.
AN OLD CENTURY GROWN TIRED, A
NEW CENTURY IN WHICH MORALITIES
AND CERTAINTIES WERE WITHERING.
TERRORISTS WERE LURKING IN THE
SHADOWS AND INDUSTRIALISTS
DECLAIMING FROM THEIR MANSIONS,
THAT FREE ENTERPRISE WOULD
SPREAD A NEW, JERUSALEM TO ALL.
MORE THOUGHTFUL OBSERVERS
SENSED THAT CHANGE WAS RUNNING
OUT OF CONTROL, AND BEGAN TO
FEAR THAT WITH THE POWERS OF
INDUSTRY MANKIND HAD FOUND THE
MEANS TO SUICIDE.
THEY SAW JINGOISTIC NATION
STATES ENGAGED IN AN ARMS RACE.
THEY SAW SOCIAL EXPLOITATION
AND VAST, URBAN SLUMS,
CONTAMINATED AIR AND WATER AND
CIVILIZATION BEING CONFERRED ON
SAVAGES THROUGH THE BARRELS OF
MACHINEGUNS.
WHAT IF THOSE GUNS WERE TURNED
NOT ON ZULUS OR SIOUX BUT ON
OTHER EUROPEANS?
WHAT IF THE DEGRADATION OF THE
SLUMS CAUSED DEGENERATION --
OF THE HUMAN RACE?
WHAT EXACTLY WAS THE POINT OF
ALL THIS ECONOMIC OUTPUT IF FOR
SO MANY PEOPLE IT MEANT
DERACINATION, MISERY AND FILTH?
BY THE END OF HIS VOYAGE WELLS' TIME
TRAVELLER, REGARDS CIVILIZATION
AS ONLY A FOOLISH HEAPING THAT
MUST INEVITABLY DESTROY ITS
MAKERS IN THE END.
NO DOUBT MANY WILL SAY THAT WE
STAND HERE TO PROVE THOSE
GLOOMY, VICTORIANS WRONG.
BUT DO WE?
THEY MAY HAVE BEEN WRONG ON THE
DETAILS THEY IMAGINED FOR OUR
TIMES, BUT THEY WERE RIGHT TO
FORESEE TROUBLE.
JUST AHEAD LAY THE GREAT WAR
AND 12,000,000 DEAD.
THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION, THE
GREAT SLUM, LEADING TO HITLER,
THE DEATH CAMPS, THE SECOND
WORLD WAR WITH 50,000,000 DEAD,
THE ATOM BOMB.
AND THESE IN TURN TO THE KOREAN
WAR, THE COLD WAR, THE NEAR
FATAL, CUBAN MISSILE, VIETNAM,
CAMBODIA, RWANDA.
EVEN THE MOST PESSIMISTIC
VICTORIAN MIGHT HAVE BEEN
SURPRISED TO LEARN THAT THE
20TH CENTURY WOULD SLAUGHTER
MORE THAN 100,000,000 IN ITS
WARS, TWICE THE ENTIRE
POPULATION OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
THE PRICE OF HISTORY DOES
INDEED GO UP.
THE VICTORIAN SCIENTIFIC
ROMANCES HAD TWO, MODERN
DESCENDANTS.
MAINSTREAM SCIENCE FICTION AND
PROFOUND, SOCIAL SATIRE SET IN
NIGHTMARE FUTURES.
THE LATTER INCLUDES SEVERAL OF
THE LAST CENTURY'S MOST
IMPORTANT BOOKS.
ALDOUS HUXLEY'S "BRAVE NEW
WORLD."
GEORGE ORWELL'S "1984," AND
J.M. COETZEE'S "WAITING FOR THE
BARBARIANS," PLUS A NUMBER OF
POST-NUCLEAR WASTELANDS, OF
WHICH RUSSELL HOBAN'S RIDLEY
WALKER HAS TO BE THE
MASTERPIECE.
WITH THE NUCLEAR THREAT FADING
MAYBE, MODERN APOCALYPTIC
NOVELS HAVE REVISITED CONCERNS
FIRST RAISED BEFORE HIROSHIMA,
ESPECIALLY THE RISKS OF NEW
TECHNOLOGY.
THE CLANKING MONSTERS OF
"EREHWON" HAVE NOW TAKEN
SUBTLER FORMS THAT THREATEN THE
WHOLE BIOSPHERE, CLIMATE
DISRUPTION, TOXIC WASTE, NEW
PATHOGENS, NANO-TECHNOLOGY,
CYBERNETICS, GENETIC
ENGINEERING.
ONE OF THE DANGERS OF WRITING A
DYSTOPIAN SATIRE IS HOW
DEPRESSING IT IS WHEN YOU GET
THINGS RIGHT.
TEN YEARS AGO I BEGAN WORKING
ON MY NOVEL, "A SCIENTIFIC
ROMANCE."
A TITLE I CHOSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE
THE VICTORIANS AND BECAUSE MY
THEME WAS OUR LOVE AFFAIR WITH
SCIENCE.
FOR SATIRICAL PURPOSES I MADE
WHAT I THOUGHT WERE WILD
EXTRAPOLATIONS.
I HAD A CHARACTER DIE OF MAD
COW DISEASE, THINKING THAT IN
THE FINAL DRAFT I WOULD
PROBABLY HAVE TO KILL HER OFF
WITH SOMETHING LESS, FAR,
FETCHED.
BY THE TIME THE BOOK WAS
PUBLISHED IN 1997, DOZENS OF
PEOPLE REALLY HAD DIED OF MAD
COW.
OTHER ELEMENTS OF THE SATIRE,
CLIMATE CHANGE THAT TURNS
WINTERY LONDON INTO A TROPICAL
SWAMP.
A RACE OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED
SURVIVORS, AND A G.M. GRASS
THAT DOESN'T MOWING BECAUSE IT
HAS THE SELF-LIMITING
PROPERTIES OF HUMAN PUBIC HAIR,
NO LONGER SEEM --

[Audience laughs]

Ronald continues NO LONGER
SEEM QUITE THE FUNHOUSE MIRRORS
THEY WERE WHEN I BEGAN.
AND JUST A FEW MONTHS AGO
SOMETHING MORE SPECIFIC CAME TO
HAUNT ME.
IN THE JUNGLY RUINS OF LONDON -
MY PROTAGONIST FINDS A STREET
BLOCKED OFF AND BUILDINGS
FORTIFIED WITH CONCRETE SLABS,
AND HERE HE DEDUCES AN
EMBATTLED BRITISH GOVERNMENT
MUST HAVE SPENT ITS FINAL DAYS
IN THE 2030S.
EARLIER THIS YEAR I READ IN THE
GLOBE AND MAIL THAT TONY
BLAIR'S GOVERNMENT --
IS PLANNING TO SURROUND THE HOUSES OF
PARLIAMENT WITH A 15-FOOT
CONCRETE WALL AND RAZOR WIRE.
I DON'T WANT TO BE A PROPHET
AND I CERTAINLY DON'T CLAIM TO BE.
IT DOESN'T TAKE NOSTRADAMUS TO
FORESEE THAT WALLS WILL GO UP
IN TIMES OF CRISIS, THOUGH THE
THICKEST WALLS ARE IN THE MIND.
A TELLING FEATURE OF THE REAL
MAD COW DISASTER WAS HOW LONG
THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT DID
NOTHING EXCEPT HOPE FOR THE
BEST.
IN HER RECENT DYSTOPIA, "ORYX
AND CRAKE" WHICH CONCENTRATES
ON BIOTECHNOLOGY, MARGARET
ATWOOD ALSO PORTRAYS THE
COLLAPSE OF CIVILIZATION IN THE
NEAR FUTURE.
ONE OF HER CHARACTERS ASKS A
SPECIES WE ARE, DOOMED BY HOPE
THEN?
BY, HOPE?
WELL, YES.
HOPE DRIVES US TO INVENT NEW
FIXES FOR OLD MESSES, WHICH IN
TURN CREATE EVER MORE DANGEROUS
MESSES.
HOPE ELECTS THE POLITICIAN WITH
THE BIGGEST, EMPTY PROMISE.
HOPE LIKE GREED, FUELS THE
ENGINE OF CAPITALISM.
JOHN STEINBECK ONCE SAID THAT
SOCIALISM NEVER TOOK ROOT IN
AMERICA BECAUSE THE POOR SEE
THEMSELVES NOT AS AN EXPLOITED
PROLETARIAT, BUT AS TEMPORARILY
EMBARRASSED MILLIONAIRES.

[Audience laughs]

Ronald continues THIS HELPS
EXPLAIN WHY AMERICAN CULTURE IS
SO HOSTILE TO THE IDEA OF
LIMITS.
WHY VOTERS DURING THE LAST
ENERGY SHORTAGE REJECTED THE
SWEAT -- JIMMY CARTER AND
ELECTED RONALD REAGAN, WHO
SCOFFED AT CONSERVATION AND
TOLD THEM IT WAS STILL MORNING
IN AMERICA.
NOWHERE DOES THE MYTH OF
PROGRESS HAVE MORE FERVENT
BELIEVERS.
MARX WAS SURELY RIGHT WHEN HE
CALLED CAPITALISM ALMOST
ADMIRINGLY, A MACHINE FOR
DEMOLISHING LIMITS.
BOTH COMMUNISM AND CAPITALISM
ARE MATERIALIST UTOPIAS,
OFFERING RIVAL VERSIONS OF AN
EARTHLY PARADISE.
IN PRACTICE COMMUNISM WAS NO
EASIER ON THE NATURAL
ENVIRONMENT.
BUT AT LEAST IT PROPOSED A
SHARING OF THE GOODS.
CAPITALISM -- US ONWARD LIKE
THE MECHANICAL HARE BEFORE THE
GREYHOUNDS, INSISTING THAT THE
ECONOMY IS INFINITE AND SHARING
THEREFORE IRRELEVANT.
JUST ENOUGH GREYHOUNDS CATCH A
HARE NOW AND THEN TO KEEP THE
OTHERS RUNNING TILL THEY DROP.
IN THE PAST IT WAS ONLY THE
POOR WHO LOST THIS GAME.
NOW IT IS THE PLANET.
THOSE WHO TRAVELLED IN THEIR
YOUTH AND HAVE GONE BACK TO OLD
HAUNTS AFTER 20 OR 30 YEARS
CAN'T FAIL TO OBSERVE THE
MASSIVE, ONSLAUGHT OF PROGRESS.
WHETHER IT BE THE LOSS OF FARMS
TO SUBURBS, RIVERS TO DAMS,
MOUNTAINS TO CEMENT QUARRIES OR
CORAL REEFS TO CONDOMINIUMS.
WE STILL HAVE DIFFERING
CULTURES AND POLITICAL SYSTEMS.
BUT AT THE ECONOMIC LEVEL THERE
IS NOW ONLY ONE, BIG
CIVILIZATION FEEDING ON THE
WHOLE PLANET'S NATURAL CAPITAL.
WE'RE LOGGING EVERYWHERE.
FISHING EVERYWHERE, IRRIGATING
EVERYWHERE, BUILDING EVERYWHERE
AND NO CORNER OF THE BIOSPHERE
ESCAPES OUR HEMORRHAGE OF
WASTE.
THE 20-FOLD GROWTH IN WORLD
TRADE SINCE THE 1970S HAS
ELIMINATED SELF-SUFFICIENCY.
EVERY EL DORADO HAS BEEN
LOOTED, EVERY SHANGRI-LA
EQUIPPED WITH A HOLIDAY INN.
JOSEPH TAINTER, WHEN HE WAS
WRITING HIS BOOK ON COLLAPSES
IN 1988 NOTED THIS
INTERDEPENDENCE, WARNING THAT
COLLAPSE IF AND WHEN IT COMES
AGAIN WILL THIS TIME BE GLOBAL.
WORLD CIVILIZATION WILL
DISINTEGRATE AS A WHOLE.
EXPERTS IN A RANGE OF FIELDS
HAVE BEGUN TO SEE THE SAME
CLOSING DOOR OF OPPORTUNITY,
BEGUN TO WARN THAT THESE YEARS
MAY BE THE LAST WHEN
CIVILIZATION STILL HAS THE
WEALTH AND POLITICAL COHESION
TO STEER ITSELF TOWARDS
CAUTION, CONSERVATION AND
SOCIAL JUSTICE.
ABOUT 12 YEARS AGO JUST BEFORE
THE REAL ENVIRONMENTAL SUMMIT
THAT LED TO THE KYOTO PROTOCOL
IN CLIMATE CHANGE, MORE THAN
HALF THE WORLD'S NOBEL
LAUREATES WARNED THAT WE MIGHT
HAVE ONLY A DECADE OR SO LEFT
TO MAKE OUR SYSTEM SUSTAINABLE.
NOW IN A REPORT UNSUCCESSFULLY
HUSHED UP BY THE BUSH
ADMINISTRATION, THE PENTAGON,
HARDLY A NEST OF TREE-HUGGERS -

[Audience laughs]

Ronald continues IS, IS
PREDICTING WORLDWIDE FAMINE,
ANARCHY AND WARFARE WITHIN A
GENERATION SHOULD CLIMATE
CHANGE FULFILL THE MORE SEVERE
PROJECTIONS.
AND IN HIS 2003 BOOK "OUR FINAL
CENTURY" --
MARTIN REESE OF CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY,
ASTRONOMER ROYAL AND FORMER
PRESIDENT OF THE BRITISH
ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT
OF SCIENCE CONCLUDES --
THE ODDS ARE NO BETTER THAN 50-50 THAT OUR
PRESENT CIVILIZATION WILL
SURVIVE TO THE END OF THE
PRESENT CENTURY, UNLESS ALL
NATIONS, ADOPT LOW RISK AND
SUSTAINABLE POLICIES.
SKEPTICS POINT TO EARLIER
PREDICTIONS OF DISASTER THAT
WEREN'T BORNE OUT.
BUT THAT IS A FOOL'S PARADISE.
SOME OF OUR ESCAPES FROM
NUCLEAR WAR FOR ONE HAVE BEEN
MORE BY LUCK THAN JUDGEMENT AND
ARE NOT FINAL.
OTHER PROBLEMS HAVE, BEEN
SIDESTEPPED BUT NOT SOLVED.
THE FOOD CRISIS HAS MERELY BEEN
POSTPONED BY SWITCHING TO
HYBRID SEED AND CHEMICAL
FARMING, AT GREAT COST TO SOIL
HEALTH AND PLANT DIVERSITY.
FOLLOWING THE ATTACKS OF
SEPTEMBER 11TH, 2001, THE
WORLD'S MEDIA AND POLITICIANS
FOCUSED UNDERSTANDABLY ON
TERRORISM.
TWO THINGS NEED TO BE SAID
HERE.
FIRST, TERRORISM IS A SMALL
THREAT COMPARED WITH HUNGER,
DISEASE OR CLIMATE CHANGE.
3,000 DIED IN THE UNITED STATES
THAT DAY.
25,000 DIE EVERY DAY IN THE
WORLD FROM CONTAMINATED WATER
ALONE.
EACH YEAR 18,000,000 BABIES ARE
BORN MENTALLY IMPAIRED BY
MALNOURISHMENT.
EACH YEAR AN AREA OF FARMLAND
GREATER THAN SCOTLAND IS LOST
TO EROSION AND URBAN SPRAWL,
MUCH OF IT IN ASIA.
SECOND, TERRORISM CANNOT BE
STOPPED BY ADDRESSING SYMPTOMS
YET, NOT THE CAUSE.
VIOLENCE IS BRED BY INJUSTICE,
POVERTY, INEQUALITY AND OTHER
VIOLENCE.
THIS LESSON WAS LEARNED VERY
PAINFULLY IN THE FIRST HALF OF
THE 20TH CENTURY AT A COST OF
SOME 80,000,000 LIVES.
OF COURSE A FULL BALLET AND A
FAIR HEARING WON'T STOP A
FANATIC.
BUT THEY CAN GREATLY REDUCE THE
NUMBER WHO BECOME FANATICS.
AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR A
CONSENSUS EMERGED TO DEAL WITH
THE ROOTS OF VIOLENCE BY
CREATING INTERNATIONAL
INSTITUTIONS AND DEMOCRATICALLY
MANAGED FORMS OF CAPITALISM
BASED ON KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS
AND AMERICA'S NEW DEAL.
THIS POLICY THOUGH FAR FROM
PERFECT SUCCEEDED IN EUROPE,
JAPAN AND SOME PARTS OF THE
THIRD WORLD.
REMEMBER WHEN WE SPOKE OF,
REMEMBER WHEN WE SPOKE NOT OF A
WAR ON TERROR BUT OF A WAR ON
WANT.
TO UNDERMINE THAT POST-WAR
CONSENSUS AND RETURN TO ARCHAIC
POLITICAL PATTERNS IS TO WALK
BACK INTO THE BLOODY PAST.
YET, THAT IS WHAT THE NEW RIGHT
HAS ACHIEVED SINCE THE LATE
1970S.
REWRAPPING OLD IDEAS AS NEW AND
USING THEM TO TRANSFER THE
LEADERS OF POWER FROM ELECTED
GOVERNMENTS TO UNELECTED
CORPORATIONS.
A PROJECT SOLD AS TAX CUTTING
AND DEREGULATION BY THE RIGHT'S
COURTIERS IN THE MEDIA, OF
WHICH CANADA CERTAINLY HAS ITS
SHARE.
THE CONCEIT OF LASSE FAIRE
ECONOMICS, THAT IF YOU LET THE
HORSES GUZZLE ENOUGH OATS
SOMETHING WILL GO THROUGH FOR
THE SPARROWS, HAS BEEN --

[Some laugh]

Ronald says THAT WAS JOHN
KENNETH GALBRAITH NOT ME.

[Audience laughs]

Ronald continues HAS BEEN
TRIED MANY TIMES AND HAS FAILED
MANY TIMES, LEAVING RUIN AND
SOCIAL WRECKAGE.
TAXES IN MOST COUNTRIES HAVE
NOT IN FACT BEEN LOWERED, THEY
WERE MERELY SHIFTED DOWN THE
INCOME PYRAMID AND DIVERTED
FROM AID AND SOCIAL PROGRAMS
TOWARDS MILITARY AND CORPORATE
ONES.
THE GREAT AMERICAN JUDGE OLIVER
WENDELL HOLMES ONCE SAID, I
DON'T MIND PAYING TAXES.
THEY BUY ME CIVILIZATION.
PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IN A BASIC,
SOCIAL SAFETY NET IS ESSENTIAL
FOR LOWERING BIRTH RATES IN
POOR NATIONS AND FOR A DECENT
SOCIETY IN ALL NATIONS.
THE REMOVAL OF THAT CONFIDENCE
HAS SET OFF A FREE FOR ALL THAT
IS STRIPPING THE EARTH.
THE REVOLT AGAINST
REDISTRIBUTION IS KILLING OUR
FUTURE.
DURING THE 20TH CENTURY AS I
NOTED EARLIER IN THESE TALKS,
THE WORLD'S POPULATION
MULTIPLIED BY FOUR, AND THE
ECONOMY BY MORE THAN 40.
IF THE PROMISE OF MODERNITY WAS
EVEN TREADING WATER, IN OTHER
WORDS IF THE GAP BETWEEN RICH
AND POOR HAD STAYED
PROPORTIONATELY THE SAME AS IT
WAS WHEN QUEEN VICTORIA DIED,
ALL HUMAN BEINGS WOULD BE TEN
TIMES BETTER OFF.
YET, THE NUMBER IN ABJECT
POVERTY TODAY IS AS GREAT AS
ALL MANKIND IN 1901.
BY THE END OF THE 20TH CENTURY,
THE WORLD'S THREE RICHEST
INDIVIDUALS --
ALL OF WHOM HAPPEN TO BE AMERICANS HAD A
COMBINED NET WEALTH GREATER
THAN THAT OF THE POOREST 48 COUNTRIES.
IN 1998 THE UNITED NATIONS CALCULATED THAT
40 BILLION U.S. DOLLARS SPENT
CAREFULLY COULD PROVIDE CLEAN
WATER, SANITATION AND OTHER
BASIC NEEDS, FOR THE POOREST ON
EARTH.
THE FIGURE MAYBE OPTIMISTIC AND
IT MAY HAVE GROWN IN THE PAST
SIX YEARS, BUT IT'S STILL
CONSIDERABLY LESS THAN THE
FUNDS ALREADY SET ASIDE FOR THE
WASTEFUL FANTASY OF A MISSILE
SHIELD THAT WON'T WORK, ISN'T
NEEDED, YET COULD PROVOKE A NEW
ARMS RACE AND THE
MILITARIZATION OF SPACE.

[Audience applauding]

Ronald continues CONSIDER
JOSEPH TAINTER'S THREE MODES
COLLAPSE, THE RUNAWAY TRAIN,
THE DINOSAUR, THE HOUSE OF
CARDS.
THE RISE IN POPULATION AND
POLLUTION, THE ACCELERATION OF
TECHNOLOGY, THE CONCENTRATION
OF WEALTH AND POWER ALL ARE
RUNAWAY TRAINS AND MOST ARE
LINKED TOGETHER.
POPULATION GROWTH IS SLOW, BUT
BY 2050 THERE WILL STILL BE
THREE BILLION MORE ON EARTH.
WE MAYBE ABLE TO FEED THAT MANY
IN THE SHORT RUN, BUT WE'LL
HAVE TO RAISE LESS MEAT WHICH
TAKES TEN POUNDS OF FOOD TO
MAKE ONE POUND OF FOOD, AND
WE'LL HAVE TO SPREAD THAT FOOD
AROUND.
WHAT WE CAN'T DO IS KEEP
CONSUMING AS WE ARE, OR
POLLUTING AS WE ARE.
WE COULD HELP COUNTRIES SUCH AS
INDIA AND CHINA INDUSTRIALIZE
WITHOUT REPEATING OUR MISTAKES.
BUT INSTEAD WE EXCLUDE
ENVIRONMENTAL STANDARDS FROM
TRADE AGREEMENTS, LIKE SEX
TOURISTS WITH UNLAWFUL LUSTS WE
DO OUR DIRTIEST WORK AMONG THE
POOR.
IF CIVILIZATION IS TO SURVIVE
IT MUST LIVE ON THE INTEREST,
NOT THE CAPITAL OF NATURE.
ECOLOGICAL MARKERS SUGGEST THAT
IN THE EARLY 1960S HUMANS WERE
USING ABOUT 70 percent OF NATURE'S
YEARLY OUTPUT.
BY THE EARLY 1980S WE'D REACHED
100 percent, AND IN 1999 WE WERE AT
125 percent.
NOW SUCH NUMBERS MAYBE
IMPRECISE, BUT THE TREND IS
CLEAR.
THEY MARK THE ROAD TO
BANKRUPTCY.
NONE OF THIS SHOULD SURPRISE US
AFTER READING THE FLIGHT
RECORDERS IN THE WRECKAGE OF
CRASHED CIVILIZATIONS.
OUR PRESENT BEHAVIOUR IS
TYPICAL OF FAILED SOCIETIES AT
THE ZENITH OF THEIR GREED AND
ARROGANCE.
THIS IS THE DINOSAUR FACTOR,
HOSTILITY TO CHANGE FROM VESTED
INTERESTS AND INERTIA AT ALL
SOCIAL LEVELS.
GEORGE SAURUS, THE REFORMED
CURRENCY SPECULATOR CALLS THE
ECONOMIC DINOSAURS MARKET
FUNDAMENTALISTS.
I'M UNEASY WITH THIS TERM
BECAUSE SO FEW OF THEM ARE TRUE
BELIEVERS IN FREE MARKETS,
PREFERRING MONOPOLIES, CARTELS
AND GOVERNMENT CONTRACTS.
BUT HIS POINT IS WELL TAKEN.
THE IDEA THAT THE WORLD MUST BE
RUN BY THE STOCK MARKET IS AS
MAD, AS ANY OTHER
FUNDAMENTALIST DELUSION,
ISLAMIC, CHRISTIAN, OR MARXIST.
IN ONE OF THE PREVIOUS TALKS I
DESCRIBED HOW A MANIA SEIZED
THE INHABITANTS OF EASTER
ISLAND AND LED THEM TO CUT DOWN
ALL OF THEIR TREES IN ORDER TO
SET UP THEIR ENORMOUS STATUES.
AND THE PROBLEM WAS WORSENED BY
THE FACT THAT THEY, THEY KEPT
AN EDIBLE RAT THAT THEY HAD
INTRODUCED, WHICH ATE ALL THE
SEEDS AND THE SAPLINGS SO THEY
DESTROYED EVERY TREE ON THE
ISLAND OF EVERY SPECIES.
IN THE CASE OF EASTER ISLAND
THE STATUE CULT BECAME A SELF-
DESTRUCTIVE MANIA AND
IDEOLOGICAL PATHOLOGY.
IN THE UNITED STATES TODAY,
MARKET EXTREMISM HAS BLED WITH
EVANGELICAL EXTREMISM TO FIGHT
INTELLIGENT POLICY ON MESSIANIC
GROUNDS.
MAINSTREAM CHRISTIANITY IS AN
ALTRUISTIC FAITH, YET THIS
OFFSHOOT IS ACTIVELY HOSTILE TO
THE PUBLIC GOOD.
A KIND OF SOCIAL DARWINISM BY
PEOPLE, WHO HATE DARWIN.

[Audience laughs]

Ronald continues PRESIDENT
REAGAN'S SECRETARY OF THE
INTERIOR TOLD CONGRESS NOT TO
BOTHER WITH THE ENVIRONMENT
BECAUSE IN HIS WORDS, I DON'T
KNOW HOW MANY FUTURE
GENERATIONS WE CAN COUNT ON
UNTIL THE BOARD RETURNS.

[Some laugh]

Ronald says GEORGE W.
BUSH SURROUNDED HIMSELF WITH
SIMILAR MINDS AND PULLED OUT OF
THE KYOTO ACCORD ON CLIMATE
CHANGE.
ADOLF HITLER ONCE GLEEFULLY
EXCLAIMED WHAT LUCK FOR THE
RULERS THAT THE PEOPLE DO NOT
THINK.

[Some laugh]

Ronald says BUT WHAT CAN
WE DO, WHAT CAN WE DO WHEN THE
RULERS WILL NOT THINK?
CIVILIZATIONS OFTEN FALL QUITE SUDDENLY.
THE HOUSE OF
CARDS EFFECT, BECAUSE AS THEY
REACH FULL DEMAND ON THEIR
ECOLOGIES THEY BECOME HIGHLY
VULNERABLE TO NATURAL
FLUCTUATIONS.
THE MOST IMMEDIATE DANGER POSED
BY CLIMATE CHANGE IS WEATHER
INSTABILITY CAUSING A SERIES OF
CROP FAILURES IN THE WORLD'S
BREADBASKETS, DROUGHTS, FLOODS,
FIRES AND HURRICANES ARISING IN
FREQUENCY AND SEVERITY.
THE POLLUTION SURGES CAUSED BY
THESE AND BY WARS ADD TO THE
JAR OF DESTRUCTION.
ALFRED CROSBY SARDONICALLY
OBSERVED, MOTHER NATURE ALWAYS
COMES TO THE RESCUE OF A
SOCIETY STRICKEN WITH
OVERPOPULATION AND HER
MINISTRATIONS ARE NEVER GENTLE.
THE CASE FOR REFORM THAT I HAVE
TRIED TO MAKE IS NOT BASED ON
ALTRUISM, NOR ON SAVING NATURE
FOR ITS OWN SAKE.
I HAPPEN TO BELIEVE THESE ARE
MORAL IMPERATIVES, BUT SUCH
ARGUMENTS CUT AGAINST THE GRAIN
OF HUMAN DESIRE.
THE MOST COMPELLING REASON FOR
REFORMING OUR SYSTEM IS THAT
THE SYSTEM IS IN NO ONE'S
INTEREST.
IT'S A SUICIDE MACHINE.
ALL OF US HAVE SOME DINOSAUR
INERTIA WITHIN US.
BUT I HONESTLY DON'T KNOW WHAT
THE ACTIVIST DINOSAURS, THE
HARD MEN AND WOMEN OF BIG OIL
AND THE FAR RIGHT THINK THEY'RE
DOING.
THEY HAVE CHILDREN AND
GRANDCHILDREN WHO WILL NEED
SAFE FOOD AND CLEAN AIR AND
WATER AND WHO MAY WISH TO ENJOY
HEALTHY OCEANS AND FORESTS.
WEALTH CAN BUY NO REFUGE FROM
POLLUTION.
PESTICIDES SPRAYED IN CHINA
CONDENSE IN ANTARCTIC GLACIERS
AND ROCKY MOUNTAIN --
AND WEALTH IS NO SHIELD FROM
CHAOS, AS THE SURPRISE ON EACH
HAUGHTY FACE THAT ROLLED FROM
THE GUILLOTINE MADE CLEAR.
THERE'S A SAYING IN ARGENTINA
THAT EACH NIGHT GOD CLEANS UP
THE MESS THAT THE ARGENTINES
MAKE BY DAY.
THIS SEEMS TO BE WHAT OUR
LEADERS ARE COUNTING ON.
BUT IT WON'T WORK.
THINGS ARE MOVING SO FAST THAT
INACTION ITSELF IS ONE OF THE
BIGGEST MISTAKES.
THE 10,000 YEAR EXPERIMENT OF
THE SETTLED LIFE WILL STAND OR
FALL BY WHAT WE DO AND DON'T DO
NOW.
THE REFORM THAT'S NEEDED IS NOT
ANTI-CAPITALIST, ANTI-AMERICAN
OR EVEN VERY DEEP
ENVIRONMENTALIST.
IT IS SIMPLY THE TRANSITION
FROM SHORT TERM TO LONG TERM
THINKING, FROM RECKLESSNESS
AND EXCESS TO MODERATION AND
THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE.
THE GREAT ADVANTAGE WE HAVE,
OUR BEST CHANCE FOR AVOIDING
THE FATE OF PAST SOCIETIES, IS
THAT WE KNOW ABOUT THOSE PAST
SOCIETIES.
WE CAN SEE HOW AND WHY THEY
WENT WRONG.
HOMO SAPIENS HAS THE INFORMATION
TO KNOW ITSELF FOR WHAT IT IS.
A SPECIES OF ICE AGE HUNTER,
ONLY HALF EVOLVED TOWARDS
INTELLIGENCE.
CLEVER, BUT SELDOM WISE.
WE ARE NOW AT THE STAGE WHEN
THE EASTER ISLANDERS COULD
STILL HAVE HALTED THE SENSELESS
CUTTING AND CARVING.
COULD HAVE GATHERED THE LAST
TREE'S SEEDS TO PLANT OUT OF
REACH OF THE RATS.
WE HAVE THE TOOLS AND THE MEANS
TO SHARE RESOURCES, CLEAN UP
POLLUTION, DISPENSE BASIC
HEALTH CARE AND BIRTH CONTROL,
TO SET ECONOMIC LIMITS IN LINE
WITH NATURAL ONES.
IF WE DON'T DO THESE THINGS NOW
WHILE WE PROSPER, WE WILL NEVER
BE ABLE TO DO THEM WHEN THINGS,
WE WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO DO
THEM WHEN TIMES GET HARD.
OUR FATE WILL TWIST OUT OF OUR
HANDS, AND THIS NEW CENTURY
WILL NOT GROW VERY OLD BEFORE
WE ENTER AN AGE OF CHAOS AND
COLLAPSE THAT WILL DWARF ALL
THE DARK AGES IN OUR PAST.
NOW IS OUR LAST CHANCE TO GET
THE FUTURE RIGHT.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

[Audience applauding]

Now a man from the audience rises to ask a question. He's in his early thirties, clean-shaven, with short black hair. He's wearing a white shirt.

He says I FOUND YOUR LECTURE TO BE
VERY INTERESTING AND A LOT OF
THE IDEAS THAT YOU RAISED WERE
I THINK INTUITIVELY SIMPLE AND
HAD A LOT OF APPEAL FOR MYSELF,
AND I WOULD ARGUE FOR A GREAT
MANY PEOPLE IN THIS ROOM.
HOWEVER WITH RESPECT I'M NOT
SURE THAT MANY PEOPLE MAY HAVE
BEEN CONVINCED OF, IF, IF THEY
DIDN'T BELIEVE WHAT YOU WERE
SAYING BEFORE AND ARE COMING
AROUND TO THE OTHER SIDE.
THERE SEEMS TO BE SOMETHING
ABOUT LIBERALISM OR SOCIAL
JUSTICE, WHICH HAS A LOT OF
INTUITIVE APPEAL FOR AN AWFUL
LOT OF PEOPLE.
FOR THE THOUSANDS THAT WILL
LISTEN TO THIS LECTURE, I
SUSPECT THAT MILLIONS MORE WILL
BE WATCHING FOX NEWS WHEN IT
COMES TO CANADA EARLY NEXT YEAR.
THE QUESTION I HAVE THEREFORE,
IS WHAT IS IT ABOUT LIBERALISM
AND SOCIAL JUSTICE THAT MAKES
IT SO UNJUSTLY UNPOPULAR?
AND IS THE PROBLEM WITH THE
MESSAGE OR THE MESSENGERS?

Ronald says WELL YOU KNOW
I, I THINK AS I, AS I MENTIONED
ALTRUISM, I MEAN THIS STANDING ALONE THIS
TALK SOUNDS LIKE A RANT.
BUT THE PREVIOUS FOUR TALKS
HAVE SHOWN CASE BY CASE HOW
HUMAN SOCIETIES WRECK
THEMSELVES AND COLLAPSE BECAUSE
OF GREED AND STUPIDITY AND
FAILING --
TO FORESEE THE CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR
ACTIONS AND ALSO BECAUSE THE
WEALTH AND POWER WENT UP TO THE
TOP AND THE PEOPLE AT THE
BOTTOM WERE DESPERATE, AND
THEREFORE SCRAMBLING AND
GOBBLING UP THE ENVIRONMENT.
AND THAT'S WHY THE CASE I'VE
MADE TONIGHT IS NOT BASED ON
DOING GOOD TO OTHERS.
IT'S BASED ON SAVING OURSELVES
FROM A TERRIBLE CRASH.
SO I'M ACTUALLY APPEALING TO
PEOPLE'S BASEST INSTINCTS HERE.

[Both laugh]

Ronald continues QUITE LITERALLY IF WE DON'T REFORM
THE SYSTEM IT'S GOING TO COLLAPSE.
IT'S AS SIMPLE AS THAT, AND
IT'S NOT IN ANY OF OUR
INTERESTS, EVEN IF YOU'RE THE
RICHEST PERSON IN THE WORLD TO
LET THAT HAPPEN.
SO OBVIOUSLY I THINK MANY
PEOPLE HAVE THE URGE TO DO GOOD
AND THAT'S FINE.
BUT THE ONES WHO DON'T, THE FOX
NEWS LISTENERS AND THE PEOPLE
WHO THINK GEORGE BUSH IS DOING
THE RIGHT THING, I'M HOPING
THAT IF THEY WOULD JUST LOOK AT
THE PAST THEY WOULD SEE WHAT'S
GOING TO HAPPEN TO THEM.
AND HERE SO THEREFORE IN THE
INTERESTS OF THEMSELVES, IN THE
INTERESTS OF THEIR CHILDREN AND
THEIR GRANDCHILDREN DON'T KEEP
DOING IT THAT WAY.
IT'S AS SIMPLE AS THAT.
AND WE'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT
MAKING EVERYBODY ON EARTH EARN
THE SAME, AND WE'RE NOT TALKING
ABOUT SOME SORT OF TOTALITARIAN
SYSTEM.
BUT WHAT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT
IS KEEPING A REASONABLE SPREAD
BETWEEN THE POOREST AND THE
RICHEST AND, AND REDISTRIBUTING
THE STUFF BEYOND THAT, THAT
RISES TO THE TOP.
AND JUST TO GIVE YOU AN EXAMPLE
OF HOW RAPIDLY THE SITUATION
HAS CHANGED IN THE LATE 1970S
THE RATIO IN EARNINGS BETWEEN A
SHOP FLOOR WORKER AND A CEO OF
A NORTH AMERICAN CORPORATION
WAS ABOUT 30 OR 35 TO ONE.
SO THE GUY AT THE TOP MADE
ABOUT 30 TIMES MORE THAN THE
GUY AT THE BOTTOM.
NOW IN JUST 25 YEARS, THE GUY
AT THE TOP MAKES 1,000 TIMES
MORE THAN THE GUY AT THE
BOTTOM.
SO, I HOPE THAT POINTS OUT TO
YOU THAT, THAT THIS SORT OF
CONSTANT PRESSURE TO LET THE
RICH GET RICHER AND THIS, THIS,
THE IDEA THAT, THAT'S GONNA
MAKE EVERYONE RICHER IN THE
LONG TIME IS JUST SIMPLY A BIG LIE.
IT'S THE BIG LIE OF OUR TIMES.

Now a clean-shaven man in his twenties, with short black hair, rises and says
IN TONIGHT'S LECTURE YOU,
YOU'VE OFFERED A COMPELLING
PICTURE OF HOW HUMAN BEINGS AT
DIFFERENT MOMENTS OF HISTORY
AND IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE
WORLD HAVE TIME AND TIME AGAIN
FALLEN VICTIM TO SOME OF THEIR
BASER INSTINCTS, UM, WHICH, AS
YOU MENTIONED, GREED,
STUPIDITY, AND FAILING TO
FORESEE THE CONSEQUENCES OF
THEIR ACTIONS.
IT, IT SEEMS LIKE YOU'VE
EXPRESSED, YOU'VE EXPOSED A
TYPE OF VITAL FLAW WITHIN HUMAN
NATURE.
AND I'M CURIOUS ABOUT OVER THE
COURSE OF YOUR IMPRESSIVE
RESEARCH IN HISTORY, WHETHER IN
YOUR MIND THERE'S CRYSTALIZED A
COUNTERPART HUMAN INSTINCT,
WHICH HAS PERHAPS IN THE PAST
ALLOWED CIVILIZATIONS AT RISK
TO REINVENT THEMSELVES?

Ronald says UM, YOU KNOW
THAT'S, THAT'S A VERY GOOD QUESTION.
I'M GLAD YOU ASKED IT.
THE, PART OF THE POINT OF THIS
BOOK I SUPPOSE IS TO GET US TO
RECOGNIZE THE FACT THAT WE'RE
NOT AS GOOD AS WE THINK WE ARE.
AND THEREFORE WE CAN'T, IT'S A
MISTAKE TO HOPE FOR THE BEST
AND THINK THINGS WILL TURN OUT
WELL IN THE LONG RUN.
WE ARE SORT OF IN THE POSITION
OF A SERIOUS ALCOHOLIC OR
ADDICT WHO GETS TO THE POINT
WHERE HE OR SHE REALIZES THAT
THEY'RE GONNA DIE IF THEY CARRY
ON DOING WHAT THEY'VE BEEN
DOING, AND THEREFORE IS ABLE TO
GET OFF THE DRUGS.
UM, THE PURPOSE OF THIS BOOK
REALLY SHOWS JUST HOW, HOW
UNINTELLIGENT WE ARE.
HOW, HOW LACKING IN WISDOM AND
THEREFORE WE SHOULD AVOID DOING
CERTAIN THINGS THAT ARE LIKELY
TO LEAD TO TROUBLE.
IT'S ALSO KNOWN AS THE
PROPORTIONARY PRINCIPLE.
IF YOU'RE NOT SURE, I MEAN FOR
EXAMPLE WHEN THE CLIMATE CHANGE
WAS STILL BEING DOUBTED BY SOME
PEOPLE WITH SOME CREDIBILITY.
I DON'T THINK THE PRESENT
DOUBTERS HAVE MUCH CREDIBILITY
OUTSIDE CERTAIN OIL COMPANIES.
BUT A FEW YEARS AGO THERE WAS
MORE ROOM FOR DEBATE.
BUT EVEN SO THE ONLY SENSIBLE
THING TO DO, THE CONSEQUENCES
OF NOT DEALING WITH IT ARE SO
SERIOUS THAT THE ONLY SENSIBLE
THING TO DO IS TO TAKE ACTION
IMMEDIATELY, UM, BECAUSE BY THE
TIME YOU, YOU GET EVERYONE
AGREEING ACTION HAS TO BE TAKEN
WITH SOMETHING AS COMPLEX AS
THAT AND AS DIRE AS THAT, IT,
IT MAY, WELL BE TOO LATE TO DO
IT.
AND, AND THAT'S ALSO A FUNCTION
OF HOW QUICKLY OUR CIVILIZATION
IS CHANGING.
ONE OF THE BIG DIFFERENCES
BETWEEN US AND PREVIOUS,
CIVILIZATIONS IS THAT THEY
MOVED VERY SLOWLY.
THE, THE CHANGE WAS VERY SELDOM
NOTICEABLE WITHIN AN
INDIVIDUAL'S LIFETIME.
BUT CHANGE HAS GOT SO FAST IN
OUR SOCIETY THAT ANY, ANYTHING
YOU'VE LEARNED WHEN YOU WERE A
CHILD IS OBSOLETE BY THE TIME
YOU'RE 30 IF NOT BEFORE THAT.
SO, IT'S MOVING SO FAST AND THE
TECHNOLOGIES WE COMMAND OR
THINK WE COMMAND ARE SO
POWERFUL THAT WE HAVE TO GET TO
THE POINT WHERE WE JUST SAY
WELL, WE'RE NOT GONNA DO THAT.
I MEAN LIKE FOR EXAMPLE UM,
GENETIC MODIFICATION OF CROPS.
IT MAY BE THE ANSWER TO THE
WORLD'S FOOD PROBLEMS, ALTHOUGH
THERE'S VERY LITTLE EVIDENCE SO
FAR THAT IT IS.
BUT THERE ARE ALSO A GREAT MANY EXPERTS WHO
SAY IT COULD BE EXTREMELY
DANGEROUS IN TERMS OF LOSS OF
GENETIC DIVERSITY OF PLANTS,
AND THE INVASION OF ECOSYSTEMS
AND SO FORTH.
SO THE ONLY SENSIBLE THING TO
DO IS TO MOVE VERY CAREFULLY
WITH SOMETHING LIKE THAT.
TEST IT IN COMPLETELY CONTROLLED
CONDITIONS, IF, IF IT IS
POSSIBLE TO DO THAT AND IF IT
IS NOT POSSIBLE TO DO IT
PROBABLY NOT DO THAT, BECAUSE
THERE ARE PLENTY OF PEOPLE WHO
SAY YOU DON'T NEED TO USE
GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS TO
FEED THE WORLD.
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO IS JUST USE
THE CROPS WE'VE GOT MORE EFFICIENTLY.
UM, PART OF THE ARROGANCE THAT
WE'RE AT IS WHERE YOU GET A, A
BIOTECHNOLOGY COMPANY COMES
ALONG, TAKES SOMETHING LIKE A
CORN PLANT AND CHANGES ONE GENE
IN IT, MAKES IT SWEETER OR MORE
FROST RESISTANT OR SOMETHING
THEN PATENTS IT.
WHEN IN ACTUAL FACT THE CORN
PLANT WAS INVENTED BY THE
ANCIENT MEXICANS WHO TOOK A
CORNCOB NO LONGER THAN A
THUMBNAIL AND BY THE TIME THE
SPANIARDS ARRIVED IN THE NEW
WORLD THEY HAD CORNCOBS PRETTY
MUCH LIKE THE ONES WE HAVE NOW.
SO IF YOU'RE GOING TO ALLOW
PRIVATE PATENTING RIGHTS OVER
ANCIENT CROPS, ROYALTIES SHOULD
BE PAID TO THOSE, TO THE
DESCENDANTS OF THOSE PEASANTS
WHO DEVELOPED THE PLANT.
I MEAN –

[Audience applauding]

Ronald continues ANOTHER THING
WORTH REMEMBERING, WHICH IS
ALSO IN THE BOOK IS THAT NOT
ONE STAPLE CROP, DESPITE THE
GREEN REVOLUTION AND ALL THE
BIOENGINEERING, NOT ONE CROP
STAPLE HAS BEEN FOUND OR
DEVELOPED SINCE PREHISTORIC TIMES.
EVERYTHING WE EAT IS, IS, WAS
GIVEN TO US BY ANCIENT
CIVILIZATIONS, EVERYTHING IMPORTANT.
SO WE NEED TO RECOGNIZE OUR OWN LIMITATIONS.
WE'RE NOT AS GOOD AS WE THINK WE ARE.
UM, THE OTHER PART OF YOUR
QUESTION, DID SOME ANCIENT
CIVILIZATIONS SORT OF SEE
WHERE, SEE THE PROBLEMS AND TRY
AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT?
AND THE ANSWER IS SOME OF THEM DID.
THE EGYPTIANS AND THE INCAS,
BOTH OF WHOM HAD LIVED IN LANDS
WHERE THERE WAS VERY LITTLE
ARABLE LAND, THE WHOLE OF
EGYPT HAD ONLY AS MUCH ARABLE
LAND AS HOLLAND, 15,000 SQUARE
MILES AND IT'S DRAWN OUT IN A
LONG STRIP.
AND IN PERU ONE PERCENT OF THE
WHOLE COUNTRY IS ARABLE.
THEY VERY QUICKLY LEARNED THAT
YOU DON'T BUILD ON FARMLAND,
AND THEY TENDED TO AVOID DOING
THAT.
THAT'S WHY YOU SEE PLACES LIKE
MACHU PICCHU PERCHED UP IN THE
MOUNTAINS.
SOMEHOW WE, WITH ALL OUR SKILLS
AND INTELLIGENCE SEEM TO BE
UNABLE TO STOP BUILDING ON
FARMLAND, WHICH IS YOU KNOW A
REALLY STUPID THING TO DO.
SO THEY, THOSE SOCIETIES WERE
ABLE TO SEE THAT THEY JUST
COULDN'T MAKE THAT MISTAKE AND
I'M HOPING THAT WE'RE GONNA BE
ABLE TO SEE THAT.
I MEAN LUCKILY THE DAMAGE IS
NOT IRREVERSIBLE AND HERE IN
CANADA WE HAVE ENORMOUS TRACTS
OF FARMLAND.
SO IN SPITE OF THE ENORMOUS
SPRAWL OF PLACES LIKE THE GTA
THERE'S STILL LOTS LEFT.
BUT WE'VE GOT TO SOMEHOW GET
OFF THIS, THIS DEVELOPMENT AND
AGRICULTURAL VALUES TREADMILL
WHEREBY A FARMER CAN'T MAKE
MONEY GROWING WHEAT.
AND THE ONLY WAY HE CAN MAKE
ANY MONEY AND GET HIS
INVESTMENT BACK AND PAY OFF HIS
DEBTS IS TO GROW HOUSES.
SO YOU KNOW WE'RE, WE'RE LOCKED
INTO AN ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL
SYSTEM THAT IS JUST BY THE WAY
IT'S STRUCTURED GOBBLING UP
THESE THINGS THAT DON'T NEED TO
BE GOBBLED UP.
AND YET, OTHER CIVILIZATIONS,
SOME OF THEM --
SAW TROUBLE
AND TRIED TO AVOID, AND, AND I
THINK THAT WE OUGHT TO BE ABLE
TO DO THAT TOO.

[Long applause]

End credits roll.

Special thanks: Bernie Lucht, Executive Producer, CBC Radio's Ideas. Philip Coulter, Producer CBC, Massey Lectures. Paul Kennedy, Host, CBC Radio's Ideas. Carolyn Rosen, CBC Communications. Laura Repas, House of Anansi Press. Anna Luengo, Massey College. John Fraser, Massey College.

Watch: Ronald Wright on A Short History of Progress