Thursday, March 17, 2011

Life, Money, and Illusion: Lesson from the East Coast Fishery

The City of Hamilton’s planning committee recently heard from Mike Nickerson, the author of Life, Money and Illusion: Living on Earth As If We Want to Stay. Excerpts from his presentation are reproduced below. The full transcription is on the CATCH website.

“…The really fundamental change between human beings and the earth has been well illustrated by the east coast fishery, because when Europeans came to North America you could drop a bucket into the ocean and pull up codfish. They were so dense in the water they couldn’t escape from a basket. And for 400 years, they were the foundation of the maritime economy. Anybody could go fishing and make a living.

“If somebody was ambitious, they fished a little more than they needed to for their immediate needs, they make some extra money and they could invest that in their boat or their net and catch more fish, and make more money. And that more money – more fish – more money – more fish process went on for 4 centuries. It just got better, and better and better and better and then it collapsed. And there’s something about better and better and better that doesn’t naturally need to collapse.

“There is something important going on that wasn’t being paid attention to. And that was the fish stock. And the reason it wasn’t being paid attention to is that for four centuries there was nobody that could even imagine that we would dent this incredible volume of fish let alone bring them to the status of endangered species. But because of the expansion of the number of fish and people fishing and particularly because of the power of the equipment we were using for fishing, you could no longer support yourself fishing cod on the east coast.

“And what we did with the fish we’re doing with the forests. We’re doing it with fossil fuels; we’re doing it in some places with fresh water, with soil fertility; with the ability of the environment to absorb our waste. These are all wake-up calls to the human family. They’re all telling us one thing. They’re saying we’re grown up now. We’re no longer a young offender; we’re fully responsible for the laws of nature, and we will be tried in the court of natural selection.
“There are only two laws in nature that we have to obey. One is the law of the minimum. How much resources do we need compared to what the planet offers – which is what the fish and the fossil fuels is about. And the other is the law of tolerance. How much of our waste can we tolerate - can the environment which supports us tolerate?