Saturday, September 04, 2010

What Choosing Life Really Means

September 04, 2010

This is a rewrite of an early chapter in the infrastructure section of Citizens Without Borders

Progress in Nature and Culture

By John Taylor; 2010 Sep 04, Asma 15, 167 BE

My ten-year-old son requested that I read the Book of Genesis as part of our daily study session. I had read the book before of course, silently, but never aloud to an audience unfamiliar with the text. I was quite surprised at their reaction to that obscure passage between Eden and the advent of Noah with that seemingly endless list of prodigiously long-lived and long-named patriarchs, each living for an age and then dropping out with the formula, "...and then he died." My small audience reacted with increasing puzzlement, then hilarity at the glum quietus each suffered. Humour is not something I expected to find in Genesis; it sounds like material for somebody's Ph.D. thesis...

Increase is a Meter of Obedience

Another surprise on this reading was that the formula, "be fruitful and multiply" is not confined to one passage, it is repeated throughout Genesis. God says it at the first creation, Eden, and at the second creation, after Noah. It goes out at the start of every revelation. It surely led to the principle that Baha'is call "universal education."

Some Biblical translations say, "Be fruitful and increase in number," since the mathematical idea of multiplication is a recent development. But even if it somehow did mean "multiply," God was pointing to nature in general, not to exploding the human population until ecosystems collapse and all die together. That would hardly be increase, would it? Surely what is meant is the reverse of our cancerous increase at all costs. If so, Genesis is talking about what biology now calls "species diversity," as well as what is called "biomass," the total weight of living creatures.

Saving the Oceans

I just listened to a distressing new TED speech about the harm that we are doing to the world's oceans through neglect, overfishing and pollution. The talk took place before the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, so it is worse now. It struck me even harder how unjust it is for some to place the blame for all this frenetic destruction on the divine dictum. God is pointing right at nature, He is telling us to take it upon ourselves to see that nature prospers.

The implication is that the number of plants and animals acts as an indicator of whether we are corrupt or pure in our obedience to God. God ended the first creation with a flood because, God asserts, men had become "corrupt." As this oceanographer points out in his speech, we have dredged the sea bottom to the point where over huge areas the beautiful coral now literally looks brown, like some desolate farmer's plowed field. If the land under the seas were visible as the land is to us, we would be very afraid. We have done all we could to destroy the oceans, in disobedience of divine decree.

High Surface Area Natural Spaces

Let us be optimistic. It would not be too difficult to reverse our disobedience of God's first command, to be fruitful and multiply.

The cosmopolitan condition would make it simple to reverse the depredation of the oceans. We could start by ending the corrupt subsidies that Portugal and other small countries hand out to their fishermen to underwrite dredging operations on the sea bottom. We could halt other maritime disasters as well, like ending offshore drilling for oil. By electrifying industry we would not need super tankers to ship oil around the world, ending the danger of oil spills. By switching to organic urbiculture we would end the growing dead zones caused by runoff of agricultural chemicals.

Aside from ending destructive policies, there are many positive measures that we could then take to obey God's command to increase biomass and undersea species diversity

Divers have long observed that sunken ships vastly increase the number of plants and fish just by increasing the available surface area. Wrecks and uneven ground provide hiding places for many plants, herbivores and carnivores. Artificial reefs could be built by dumping decommissioned ships and just about any other large object into coastal areas. In places where this has been tried, both species diversity and the harvest from coastal fisheries increased dramatically. With a world government this could be done on a much larger scale.

One recent proposal is to use sand structures. Researchers, including Jason De Jong at the Soil Interactions Laboratory, at UC Davis ( and Stefano Ciurli of the University of Bologna have discovered that a common swamp bacterium, Bacillus Pasteurii, can initiate a biochemical reaction that changes sand into sandstone in as little as twenty-four hours. Amazingly, a sort of three-dimensional printer directed by CAD/CAM software can direct these bacteria to sculpt sand dunes into any shape they please. Magnus Larsson ( has proposed that this technique be used in the Green Wall Sahara initiative, a shelterbelt of trees that is being planted across twenty-four African countries in order to hold back the spread of the Sahara. The technique may be adapted to the formation of artificial reefs as well. It would make it cheap and easy to form the sea floor into whatever surface oceanographers deem most likely propagate life under the waves.

So, instead of subsidizing fishermen to destroy the oceans, why not hire the same workers to sail along the coasts of every continent in super tankers full of sand, dumping behind huge artificial structures that sink onto the sea floor to form artificial reefs. After plying the seas this way for a few years, who knows how much biomass the oceans would support?

And why confine ourselves to the seas?

We could enlist these sandstone manufacturing bacteria to create habitats with vastly greater surface area than is usually found in nature. That way we could turn boring prairies into hilly, sculpted surfaces of whatever shape ecologists deem desirable for species diversity. With research and experience, we could replenish natural areas that now are languishing. In fact, we could probably actually create greater biomass and biodiversity than before humans took over.

More is understood now about the importance of fungi as the foundation of forest ecosystems. Armed with this knowledge, we could sculpt the forest floor specifically for the support of mushrooms and other fungi. This would make trees stronger and healthier, and supercharge the number and diversity of species living in the forest.

This way we could fulfill the prime divine order, to multiply the fruits of nature. But why restrict ourselves to nature? Christ's parable of the talents intensified the first commandment, shifting it to the human world. The parable implies that God not only gets quite irate when we fail to multiply natural diversity, He is also less than pleased when we neglect to develop our human talent as well.

Human Diversity

In order to increase human diversity, we could mix cities with supercharged rural and natural areas. Done wisely, this would increase the fruitfulness of both the human and the natural world at once. For example, occasional exposure to nature has a healing effect on the human psyche. Studies show that a five minute walk in a forest path while in conversation or solving a puzzle has a more powerful effect on our well-being than a dose of antidepressant. Hospital patients who convalesce in natural surroundings heal much faster than those in an artificial environment. By mixing nature into all landscapes we would increase human happiness to heights never before attained.


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