Friday Flashback: Beginning Again

green turtle
In September 2005 I summarized biologist David Ehrenfeld’s prescient 1993 book Beginning Again, in which he lovingly tells the story of the giant green turtles of Costa Rica, who have lived there unchanged for 300 million years, skewers bureaucracy and hierarchy as twin evils of the modern era, laments the loss of the critical skills of craftsmanship and maintenance, insists that there is no adapting to catastrophes in complex systems (so we must learn to prevent them), champions generalists over narrow specialists, calls for restrictions on increase of human numbers, urges adoption of sustainable polyculture and permaculture to replace catastrophic agriculture, and warns (in 1993!) of the looming crisis created by the “bottomless pit of debt” in the US.He likens our modern economy to “a massive flywheel, spinning too fast for its size and construction, coming apart in chunks as it spins”. This, he warns, is what happens when you try to replace an effective complex natural system, with great resilience and redundancy evolved over hundreds of millennia, with an efficient complicated, man-made system, fragile, over-extended, unforgiving of any failure in any of its moving parts. The big losers when it comes apart, he warns, will be the poor and the young. The rich and old, who have hoarded what they need to pull them through, will increasingly closet themselves away from the masses as the cascading crises wreakhavoc on everyone else.

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