“Slow Learners: Two hundred Years of Unheeded Warnings”

The Vernonia Library was host on April 20, 2013 to an interesting conversation about warning signs of impending doom that the leaders and general population of our country and planet are continuing to ignore.

“Slow Learners: Two hundred Years of Unheeded Warnings” was the  program facilitated by Dr. Richard  Clinton, professor emeritus of political science at Oregon State University.  The program was part of the Conversation Project through  Oregon Humanities.

Oregon Humanities offers free programs that engage communities in thoughtful, challenging conversations about ideas critical to our daily lives and our state’s future.

Dr. Clinton used a series of historic quotes from authors, historians, scientists and poets to stimulate conversation with the small audience in attendance.  Clinton raised questions about overpopulation and the earths ability to sustain continual growth,  (“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” – H.G. Wells),   our continued reliance on technology to solve our problems, (“Men have become the tools of their tools.” – Henry David Thoreau), the unwillingness of the United States to take seriously the threat of global warming, the role of money and greed in our political decision making, the continuing disparity between  the rich and the poor, and how corporations and the rich control our economy and governments, (“An attitude to life which seeks fulfillment in the single minded pursuit of wealth, in short materialism, does not fit  into this world, because it contains within itself  no limiting principle, while the environment in which  it is placed is strictly limited.” – E.F. Schumacher)

Clinton proposed that our population has become cynical (“We are wondering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born.” – Matthew Arnold, 1885) about our ability to influence our government, our economy, and our environment.  “We’ve had all kinds of warnings, but we don’t pay attention, we don’t act,” said Clinton.

Clinton noted that science  overwhelmingly shows that global warming is real and that 98% of scientists worldwide agree that  human caused climate change is occurring.  Clinton blames what he calls “astroturf organizations” (as opposed to grassroots organizations), which have been created by the fossil fuel companies that pay scientists to convince Americans that the threat is not real.  He also referenced a film, “Chasing Ice” that documents evidence of climate change.

Clinton provided a reference list for his audience and several times referenced  Herman Daly, author of “Economics, Ecology, Ethics, Essays Towards a Steady-State Economy.”  Clinton attended Vanderbilt University with Daly, who portends that there is no need for continued growth in population and the economy for there  to be continued moral, mental and social progress.  Daly suggests a stationary condition of capital and population, a “Steady-State Economy.” “The important  issue of the steady state will be distribution, not production, says Daly.”  Clinton says the decision about how to distribute resources more equitably and fairly is a moral issue.

Clinton suggests that by working together, questioning our culture and talking about the issues he has raised, the populous has the ability to find the wisdom to proceed.  “These people have been talking about a revolution in the way we think about our world,” says Clinton.  “It’s up to us to finally do something about it.”