GODS LAST OFFER: Negotiating for a Sustainable Future, by Ed Ayres. Four Walls Eight Windows, New York and London, 2000. $14.95 paperback.
Reviewd by Maya del Mar
Ed Ayres has been editor of Worldwatch since 1993, and thus is in a unique position to keep track of world environmental issues. Here he integrates the many threads into a pattern which he shows is altering life on earth and could destroy it.
This is a spectacular book in many ways. First of all, because its so TRUE. Its a short, concise, well-illustrated book about the current state of the earth and the life it supports this being we call Gaia. The view is broad and comprehensive, and yet Mr. Ayres gives detailed examples of every point which he makes.
It is a perfect expression of the current Gemini-Sagittarius opposition as it moves seamlessly back and forth between concrete situations and their larger significance. Upon reading Gods Last Offer, we are left with our world view clarified at a very deep level, hopefully deep enough that we are motivated to take action.
This story is an example:
"One day in 1987, near the Brazilian city of Goiania, two boys found an abandoned piece of equipment. It was box-like and mysterious and, as boys will, they broke into it. Inside they found a glowing blue powder. One of the boys put some of it on his face like war point, and grinned garishly. The other put some in his hair. They laughed, threw the powder at each other and checked out whether it had any taste. Then they filled their pockets with the wondrous stuff and took it home to show their friends and siblings.
Authorities later determined that what the boys had found cesium-137, a highly radioactive substance. A few days later, the two companions, along with several of their family members and neighbors, had to be buried in lead-lined coffins."
This is a parable, says Mr. Ayres, of the human infatuation with technology, except that the larger storyour storyhas not yet been completed, and has a range of possible endings from which we now must choose.
What is Gods last offer? It is to trade our closely guarded personal security for the larger security of the world we stand on:
"It is only through the acceptance of this offerto defend our world instead of ourselvesthat we have any real chance of saving ourselves and of regaining the sense of personal and family security we care about so deeply."
Mr. Ayres discusses the damage, to date, to our fragile web of life. He identifies four "megaphenomena," all of which work together, and each of which has very rapidly risen to dangerous levels. They are the rise of carbon gas emissions, the rate of biological extinctions, unsustainable consumption, and the exploding human population.
His discussion is basic, lucid, and sprinkled with lively examples. He shows that as we move along our present course, an increase in any one of these parameters could take us over the edge at any time, and it would have a domino effect on the others.
The author shows how all of these phenomena are human-created, and he shows, as well, what humans can do to alleviate each of these conditions. On the one hand it is a doom and gloom book, not unwarranted in the face of our suicidal rush to destroy our nest. But it is also a book full of hope, as he points out, in comprehensive and practical ways, how we can change our course.
Mr. Ayres talks at length about the two basic problems, ignorance and denial. He shows how a continual barrage of corporate misinformation sows confusion and doubt, and obscures those seeds of truth within us.
We read, in 1992, the widely published World Scientists Warning to Humanity. It was a joint statement by 1,670 of the worlds most accomplished scientists from all fields. It was concise, and in English, and said, "Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course."
We did not then, and still dont, really take this statement seriouslyalthough it is clear that all of our sustenance is from that very natural world which we are destroying. Why is this?
The author talks very cogently about addiction and denial, and the blinders which are a consequence of those human impulses. He says that why we dont believe that were putting our whole world at risk, when our leading scientists do, may be the most important question science faces today.
"more important than whether disease can be conquered by genetic engineering, or whether we will find higher forms of life outside the solar system. The question of denial has primacy, because denial is what blocks our ability to make progress on all other fronts. Its what locks us into those patterns of addiction and self-destruction."
Many, perhaps most, of us have worked with addictions in our own lives, and we know the truth of this statement.
Mr. Ayres talks about addiction and its human and social costs.
"What addiction does is to cut off this envisioning and empathizingto cut it short and keep the addicted person focused on immediate experience
It cuts attention off from long-term consequences
they also give up the ability to survive that our evolving consciousness gave us."
For instance, "the appetite for gasoline that allows industrial nations to support an industry now known to universally raise the risk of jeopardizing civilization itselfyet allows us to do this without envisioning anything at all beyond the gratification of pulling away from the pump with a full tankis addictive on a societal scale."
Ill let you read the excellent solutions for yourselves. But the fact is that they do no good until we break through the denial.
(The United States has Neptune as the most elevated, thus most influential, planet in its chart. One of Neptunes titles is The Veils of Illusion. Neptune is associated with denial, addiction, and oil.)
This is a short book, fascinating, very well-written, and with a vital message. I kept wanting to share every page with you readers, but instead could take only a few snapshots. Even for me, who has been firmlyand activelyin the earths camp for my whole life, reading this essential book is a wake-up call. Its perspective is masterful.
Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, says, "Gods Last Offer says it all, with eloquence and economy. By the time readers get near the end, they will understand that we are not just toying with nature, we are compromising the capacity of natural systems to preserve a livable world."