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Olduvai III: Catacylsm
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Our Energy “Needs” Are Driving a Mass Extinction

Our Energy “Needs” Are Driving a Mass Extinction

Nuclear, fossil fuels, and renewable energy all cause major harm to ecosystems. Are we willing to accept these limits?

Clouds of smoke from record wildfires rise above the Russian Arctic in summer 2010 — at that time, the hottest on record in the region. Photo by the author.

The writer Martín Prechtel often talks of the Tzutujil Mayan culture he was adopted into, and that community’s relationship with technology. He describes that, in their traditional ways, the production of a tool such as a knife was a grave and serious matter. Throughout the physical effort of creating the knife, mounting a handle, and sharpening the blade, and extending throughout its use, many prayers and lengthy and exhausting ceremonies were required.

The power of the knife, Prechtel says, requires a spiritual expense, a lengthy reflection and meditation on the origins of the materials, the intended use, the ramifications of the technology, and the proper mindset with which it is to be used.

The Tzutujil Maya, Prechtel says, didn’t invent bulldozers or aircraft carries—not from any stupidity, but out of a cultural recognition of the costs (ecological, material, and spiritual) of such technologies.

The contrast between this approach to our physical tools and their impacts on the world around us and our communities could hardly be more different from the perspective on technology in modern civilization. Rarely do we ask the question, “should we invent this?” Even more rarely is that question answered with “no”—at least, not by the people with the power to influence the outcome.

Today, every new technology which can give military or business advantage is essentially automatically accepted. The ideology of progress has evolved from “manifest destiny” to “technological progress.” But the genocide and ecocide continues to underly the process of expansion. The Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan calls this “a sort of madness that is a god to people.”

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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