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The Turquoise Revolution: An Urgent Appeal to Scientists Environmentalist and Progressives


Imagine looking at the Earth from the Moon, or through a telescope from Mars or Venus. What would you see? The astronauts tell us we can take in a feast for the eyes and soul far greater than the separated green and blue planet of standard maps, or Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot as seen from deep space. Instead, we see a vibrant, ever-changing blend of turquoise and white on a living, swirling, rotating disk. The Earth from this vantage point still looks alive, symbolizing hope. It’s when we zoom in closer to survey from the land, water and air that the pollution becomes evident. The abuse of our planet cries out for a massive restoration to health and living vitality on every scale, from the largest continent, ocean and air space down to the tiniest microbe and electron.

Humankind has created a synthetic world that works against nature rather than with nature. As a result, our world is woefully unsustainable
in spite of the best intentions of many of us. We must now act decisively to reverse the exploitation of the Earth’s resources if we as a civilization are to have any hope to survive and thrive. Because of the dirty extraction of coal, oil, metals, water, food and forests and the destruction of our ecosystems through the pollution of our land, air, and waterways, we are fast approaching the tipping point of depletion while co-creating for ourselves and our bewildered brothers and sisters in the animal and plant kingdoms a pathetically ravaged planet. Although there are viable solutions to this dilemma, these solutions have so far been banned from widespread discussion, even among those of us who should know better the scientists, environmentalists and progressives.

I am a scientist, environmentalist and progressive, and have been these for a long time. I can empathize with those of you similarly inclined but who are immersed in a career where paradigm paralysis and political correctness carry the day. The result is widespread ignorance about the full range of possible solutions. I know this because I’ve been there. I confess it’s taken me a long time to emerge from the limitations of my own career, during which I was oblivious to solutions that I now know we must embrace, and soon, if we are to have any real hope for the future.

During most of my 70 years I’ve been an optimist, believing that radical innovation could bring us a better world. But when exploring what it would truly take for us scientists, environmentalists and progressives to lead the way to sustainability in harmony with nature, I realize that we have been unable to reach a consensus, in part because of the extraordinary cultural resistance that we are struggling against. We the people have been divided and ruled by a global corporate system with very different goals from ours. We haven’t been able to take effective action due to a blend of social, political and economic pressures that have disempowered us in such a subtle way that we are often not even aware of it.

By not taking effective action, we by default cooperate with the powers-that-be in co-creating the world we see. Our solutions so far are too little too late. Initiatives such as www.350.org and the U.N. Millennium Development Goals provide an excellent critique of the way-things-are and set important goals to undo all that, but they are surprisingly ineffective at expressing the means of how we can go about it. Innovative solutions are available for those who are willing to take off their blinders and look for them. We ignore innovation at our peril.

The solutions so far suggested by mainstream scientists, environmentalists and progressives—such as solar, wind or biofuel energy technologies; the use of chemical materials and agricultural and pharmaceutical practices; bio-technologies and nano-technologies; and geoengineering remedies such as spewing particles into the atmosphere to compensate for greenhouse emissions and global warming--collectively have their own hazards and will not do the job we really need to do. At the very best, some of these solutions will buy us a little time. But when we consider fulllifecycle environmental costs, these proposed solutions will not nearly give us a sustainable world. For example, a solar collector or windmill might produce renewable energy, but we usually ignore the impact of extracting, refining, transporting and disposing of the materials (e.g., see Annie Leonard’s animated “The Story of Stuff,http://www.storyofstuff.org ). We have to be honest about this. As a species we must be more intelligent about the choices we make, and we must look to nature for as many of the answers as possible.

We scientists, environmentalists and progressives should debate these issues within a larger context so that we can eventually agree upon a course of action from a position unbeholden to current priorities and practices. The problem is social not technical, for the solutions exist within the frontiers of our imagination and experimentation. Responsibly applied outside-the-box innovations wait in the wings for their cultural opportunity. We can have a truly sustainable future if we move beyond limited beliefs inculcated by an aggressive Western tradition and reinforced by the pressures of education, career, funding, vested interests and fear of reprisal for doing anything different. Having spent the past four decades researching clean solutions to our environmental challenges, I am convinced that we can solve these problems, but we scientists, environmentalists and progressives first will need to come together and decide which concepts make the most sense in addressing our planetary emergency and how to implement them. So far there has been little agreement about how to proceed. We continue to complain about the horrendous status quo and agree only that something needs to be done about it.

By merely setting goals without any significant means of achieving them, we become unwittingly complicit in maintaining the status quo. The Apollo and Manhattan projects were successful because of both the stated intention (specific goals) and the substantial R&D efforts
authorized to fulfill them. To survive our current planetary emergency, we need to have a similar commitment of substantial resources to achieve creative goals. I believe we can succeed again with the right 2combination of will, intelligence, wisdom, support, teamwork, courage and compassion.

In this essay I urge my fellow scientists, environmentalists and progressives to suspend disbelief, even for a short while, and discuss among ourselves which outside-the-box ideas to put on the table and what effort it will take to implement them. There are many, many such breakthrough concepts that could be developed but fall under the radar of mainstream discourse. Which ideas--whether or not they appear to be 100% feasible, and whether or not they appear to be a threat to existing powers--can we consider that will be ethical and good for the environment? There is no more pressing need now than the mandate to pursue the responsible introduction of clean energy for all.

I am certain that we can reach this goal in the near future if we together co-create the mandate.

Read the Turquoise Revolution by Dr. Brian Leary


Dr. Brian O'Leary is an author, pioneering physicist and former NASA astronaut. He has published ten international books on the frontiers of science, space, energy and culture. With his artist-wife Meredith, they founded Montesueños, a retreat center and botanical garden in the Ecuadorian Andes dedicated to finding deep peaceful and sustainable solutions to humankind's war on nature and to implement these at local, regional and global levels of action. Please visit Dr. O'Leary's websites at www.montesuenos.org and www.brianoleary.info for more details.


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