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Daniel Quinn Interviewed E-mail
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Sunday, 12 August 2007

Daniel Quinn Interviewed

EcoGeek interviews Daniel Quinn, thinker and author.

The excerpt below highlights the human illusion that other species are expendable.


While his way of thinking may seem odd at first, Quinn's ideas are extremely rational and widely acclaimed. His work has been translated numerous times, and is assigned reading for anthropology students, business majors, and students of biology, ethics, ecology, and history worldwide. Quinn's broad, sweeping documentation of our society's ills are never without hope for the future, and though he's a bit reluctant to bear the title of "EcoGeek".

EcoGeek: In many of your books, you tackle the subjects of sustainability and the environment, but from a perspective that may seem odd to many environmentalists. It seems you are not the typical "tree hugger"...

Daniel Quinn: I don't consider myself an environmentalist. I feel that the category itself is badly conceived, dividing the world into people who are "for the environment" and people who are "for people," which is nonsense. Thus it came to be seen that "environmentalists" were "for" the spotted owl, while non-environmentalists were seen to be "for" forestry jobs that would be lost by saving the spotted owl. The term "environmentalism" emphasizes a false division between "us" and "it" -- "it" being the environment. There is no "it" out there. We are all in this together. There are no two sides. We cannot survive as a species somehow separate from the rest of the living community.

EG: A lot of people are worried about a lot of different things right now. What scares your pants off?

DQ: It seems to me that your question is: "What's gonna get us first?" I'll let others conjecture about that. I know that there's going to be an end to fossil fuel, and when it comes, we'd better have in place a petroleum-free way of feeding ourselves or it's going to get real ugly around here. That scares the pants off me (though I won't be here to go through it.)

EG: It does seem we are headed for certain disaster if we keep living the way we do now. What gives you hope for the future?

DQ: Only the prospect of worldwide mind-change gives me hope for the future. It has happened before, in the Renaissance. It happened in the Soviet Union, bringing about its collapse. It can happen again, and it must -- or indeed we are doomed. What gives me hope is the fact that the curve of awareness as measured by the number of books published and read on the subject has risen steadily. I (and a relatively small number of others) have AS YET been unable to shake the commonly held Malthusian vision of the relation between population growth and food production. So it continues to be seen that it is completely inevitable that our population must continue to grow to 8 billion, 10 billion, 12 billion. If this happens, I'm afraid I see no hope for our species. The world's biologists now concur that we have entered a period of mass extinction as great as any such period of the past. Sustaining 6.5 billion of us costs the world as many as 75, 100, or 200 species a day (the United Nations recently offered the lowest of these estimates). Eventually, the ecological structures that sustain human life will collapse if this continues. This disastrous trend (which will grow worse as our population grows) is reversible; but only if people in general come to understand that it MUST be reversed, for the sake of our own survival.

EG: Regardless of what you may think, many of us have found your work to be eye-opening. When do you think the tipping point for environmental consciousness, for sustainable living, will be reached? When will it become mainstream to "save the world"?

DQ: What I've said is that if there are still people here in 200 years, they won't be living the way we do, because if people go on living the way we do, then there will be no people here in 200 years. If there are still people here in 200 years, they won't be thinking the way we do, because if people go on thinking the way we do, then they will go on living the way we do? and there will be no people here in 200 years. You could probably cut that down to 100 years. I would say that the tipping point is probably going to have to occur in the next 25 to 50 years? more likely 25 than 50.

EG: Since you stress mind-change so heavily as an element of future survival, can you point to a single change that seems to you key?

DQ: One idea that survived the middle ages, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment to flourish into the present age is this: that humans belong to an order of being that is separate from (and higher than) the rest of the living community. This is, to my mind, the most dangerous idea extant today, and it's literally going to kill us if we don't get rid of it. Earthworms are more important to the life of this planet than humans are, and if earthworms disappear, we humans will follow very soon after. It's vital that we get it into our heads that we are members of a community and dependent on that community the same way every other member is. We cannot exist apart from it. We don't "own" that community. We aren't custodians of it (it takes care of itself and did so successfully for billions of years before our appearance). We need it, absolutely and forever; it doesn't need us. If there are still people here in 200 years, they will know this without the slightest doubt.

PS: Earthworms are essential for healthy soil. Healthy soil is essential to food production. Petroleum-based fertilizers are not good for earthworms. Pesticides and herbicides are bad for earthworms.

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