The debate over human exploitation of the Earth’s resources, whether out of pure greed or recast as “wise” use, and its affect on animals, the oceans, or wild lands and woodlands versus the advocates of non-use, protectionism, or conservation has run its course.  The rhetoric is wrung dry of all “pros,” “cons,” and “what ifs.”  There are no new arguments.


A quarter century ago, an event that engaged the world in focusing on the gravity of the damage and impact of human activity on the planet was the Rio Earth Summit.  Then leaders from one hundred seventy-two nations, 2,400 NGO activists, and nearly 10,000 journalists gathered to raise public awareness of human activities threatening to wipe out habitat and species throughout the planet.


In that, they succeeded.  Today that concern is universal common knowledge.

Today, the questions that beg answers are simple:  Has grievous harm to the environment done in pursuit of economic gain and human comfort come to an end?  Has it decreased?  Are the planet and its inhabitants better off, worse, or the same?


Take a look at a snapshot.  Elephants are still slaughtered for ivory.  Rhinos still die for their horns.  Whales are hunted.  Rain Forests continue to be cleared for farmland.  Farmland, in turn, is replaced by housing development. Coastlines, where sea turtles nest, are developed into luxury resorts.  Oceans are overfished and used as dumps for the world’s garbage. Wildlife habitat is lost and entire species are threatened with extinction.  Pollution poisons the air and rivers.  Dogs and cats roam city streets and are put to death simply because they were born or are homeless and hungry.  Children suffer disease, starvation, and poverty.  Corporations overharvest every resource.  Governments wring their hands, create new bureaucracies, and pass new laws that achieve little or nothing.  NGO and industry monitors issue “best practice” standards that strive to rein in the most egregious behavior, yet achieve little more than putting a socially acceptable stamp of approval on the very activities responsible for resource depletion. The list of eco-insults goes on and on.


One truly must strain the bonds of credibility not to see that the pursuit of greed-driven profit is and has been the force behind resource abuse.  Or that today, 25 years after the Rio Summit, it’s also the reason no practical solutions exist to halt the resource rape afflicting the planet.


Government economies are built upon revenues derived from multi-national corporate profits.  NGO economies are based on fund-raising from those same resource exploiting issues whether the subject is elephants, exotic timber, strip-mining, energy, or abandoned dogs and cats.  A solution to any of those issues reduces the latter’s funding potential.


Campaigns by NGOs and industry alike attempt to tie third party “best practices” certification to the idea that a fishery or farm animal processor or brand of lumber is “environmentally sustainable.” Those certification schemes are little more than an attempt to use the observation of 18th Century Philosopher Bishop George Berkeley that “perception is reality” to deceive the public into believing that the “perception” that progress is being made toward healing the Earth is “reality,” when, in fact, it’s not. To the contrary, the opposite is true. They represent no such progress toward healing and do little more than to put a stamp of approval on the same egregious activities responsible for resource abuse.


A one or two percent lowering of the take of a marine species or making the commercial harvest shorter by a week is an ineffective and quite bogus ruse designed to impart the misleading impression of diminishing overfishing.


One current alternative being sold as a curative to overfishing is farming hundreds of thousands of fish in a series of deep water-anchored net pens.  But, it too is no practical solution.  It only adds to the oceans’ stress by introducing huge concentrations of feces, uneaten feed, antibiotics, anti-parasite medications, disease, and more to the ocean floor.


Government “culling” of elephants in the name of conserving rangeland carry capacity is another huge international fraud.  The real motive is to fill government stockpiles of ivory in anticipation of periodically permitted international sales.


John Elkington asks the most poignant question regarding how we treat the Earth. Does the introduction of improved technology – the fork – into a horrific activity make that activity acceptable? Does it represent social progress towards eliminating cannibalism?  Of course not!  That’s why Elkington’s metaphor is perfect to describe the fallacy that 25 plus years debating environmental issues and improving technology used to exploit Nature’s resources somehow are helping to end the practices that abuse the planet.

Nothing changes but appearances.  No progress is made stopping the offenses we commit against the air, land, seas, animals, and ourselves.  Nature’s resources continue to be defiled on a global scale, just more efficiently.


Elkington’s book, “Cannibals With Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business” does not simply repeat the lamentations of governments, NGOs, and environmental scientists.  It offers a rational pathway to correct the abuse.


Ironically, greed and the pursuit of profit spurred the rape of the planet’s resources, yet, Elkington’s three-part plan begins with “profitability” in a favorable role.  He tempers that motivation and changes the global equation for resource use by adding “environmental quality” and “social justice” to the mix.

Elkington suggests the way to stop mindless greed and achieve real change begins with a better, more profitable, and more humane way to behave. That three-part “better way” incorporating environmental concern and societal justice rejects the goal of accruing economic gain equal to the “old, destructive” way.  Instead, Elkington’s formula seeks to earn far greater revenue.  He argues that equal financial earnings provide no incentive to change for those engaged in resource exploitive behavior. Elkington’s way sees the power of greed harnessed and transformed as a force for good.  Not so hidden in his new equation is the need for a philosophical or spiritual element to permeate throughout the human, bureaucratic, and corporate psyche.


True course correction for global corporate traders, governments, and individuals demands a philosophical template with social justice at its center.  Most simply put, the path to change is about doing the right thing for the right reason, not for accolades or celebrity or social praise.


Albert Schweitzer believed the purpose of human life is to serve, to show compassion, and to help others.  He articulated the philosophic backdrop against how we humans should interact with each other and our world:

“Only by means of reverence for life can we establish a spiritual and humane relationship with both people and all living creatures within our reach.  Only in this fashion can we avoid harming others, and, within the limits of our capacity, go to their aid when they need us.”

Schweitzer spoke to the heart of the sort of change that must dictate how we treat the Earth and each other.


“Poverty is the worst form of pollution” was the seminal sentence Indira Ghandi uttered at the United Nation’s Conference on Human Environment.  Those seven words linked Albert Schweitzer’s philosophical credo two years earlier with the goals of the Rio Earth Summit twenty years later.


If we are to eliminate cruelty, suffering, and environmental abuse, we must focus not only on changing the behavior of governments and corporations but also on providing equitable social justice to influence that of individuals too.  The poorest among us must have the opportunity to profit by having sufficient food to eat, clean water to drink, and economic ways to improve their lives.  The alternative results in “pollution” in the form of wildlife depletion, habitat destruction, and resource misuse.


The Earth’s ability to meet the basic needs of humanity is far more frail than most imagine.


The planet’s human population promises to grow from 7.6 billion in 2017 to 9.7 billion by 2050.  The pressing question is how to sustainably feed those increasing numbers without destroying Earth’s ability to provide the necessary food.  The oceans suffer from overfishing – 89.5 percent of fish stocks are overfished or fully fished – from acidification, temperature change, hypoxia, and pollution.  Some 57 million individuals engaged in fishing stand to lose some or the entirety of their livelihood if things don’t change.

Farming’s future, given the growing loss of acreage to development, is even more vulnerable with the available arable land already alarmingly limited.  Academia’s frightening analogy compares the Earth to an apple.  To understand the extent of that limitation, slice an apple into quarters. Three represent the oceans and areas covered in water.  One quarter is dry land.  One half of that latter quarter is uninhabitable and unable to grow crops: the Arctic, Antarctic, deserts, swamps, and high mountains.  The remaining eighth of the Earth’s mass must then be sectioned into four equal parts.  Three cannot be farmed.  They are too rocky, too steep, too cold, too wet, or covered with cities and roadways.  The lone remaining sliver therefore must produce the entirety of the planet’s non-marine food and fiber.


The state of the Earth is precarious in deed.

The time for discussion has passed. The questions facing us must change and lead to practical, effective solutions. The quarter century of debate gave us certain common ground from which rational people can and must derive those solutions.


Wild habitat and wildlife must be protected and conserved. Oceans, rivers, and streams must flow unpolluted and free from unsustainable exploitation. We must have an abiding reverence for life…all life but sentient life in particular. The issue is not can we use nature’s resources but should we?

Albert Schweitzer articulated the ultimate definition of reverence for life. Are we ready to embrace it and how?

For most, reverence for life is not an absolute, but rather a form of ethical pragmatism. At best, we attempt to avoid causing needless cruelty and environmental damage, while finding ways to extend social justice to those around us.

If we are to pursue new ways to heal the Earth, we must reject economies based on environmental misuse. We must not be activist organizations whose budgets are funded by issue-based donations. Support must come from donors and companies that share the same philosophical underpinnings and who give because it’s the right thing to do.

If we are to find effective solutions, they must be based on observing all aspects of the problem and determining ways to go forward not for personal or organizational gain but rather for the betterment of us all, now and long into the future.