Tipping Points Are Bad News, Good News

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The bad news first: Europe has already run out of fish for the year. Scientists say “this century is the last century of wild seafood” if we don’t change our practices.

Now the good news: we KNOW that Europe has run out of fish for the year.

What’s good is that, rather than acting like we have for the past few centuries as if the bounty of the planet were inexhaustible and infinitely replenishable, we’ve acknowledged that there is a fixed stock we can draw from for such living commodities as fish. Both demand and supply can be measured with a much greater precision than was possible even ten years ago.

Our knowledge of these limits can pull us back in time from the edge of total exhaustion of that resource beyond which it cannot rebound. We can say “no more now” in time so that the resource becomes sustainable into the future.

Yes, this means I won’t have the freedom to eat however much of whatever creature satisfies my own personal palate. But we live in a unique time in the short course of human history such that my personal liberties cannot be the ultimate “good.” Even those “best interests” of my group, party, or nation cannot stand as the absolute arbiter of action. And as much as certain groups don’t like it, and with vigilance against making Earth into a god, we have to put the planet first in the hierarchy of needs, of shoulds, of musts.

If the planet catches a cold, we all sneeze.

I’m encouraged that we might be seeing our way past the petty party-race-nation divisions that have divided us, and beginning in earnest to work cooperatively–as we must–across the planet to put our house in order before the opportunity slips beyond our grasp.

I’ll be writing more about this eco-centric way of framing the future, and pointing towards some of the hopeful changes I see–even at the level of corporations, governments and nations.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Wow. You are back in full swing, Fred. Being told to take some time off and relax just fired you up! I am looking forward to the specific cases of encouraging news you choose to share with us in the near future. After reading the book Blessed Unrest, and seeing several other pieces showcasing enlightened business practices, it looks like an exciting turning point is coming.