Near and Distant Bears

Suppose you are walking along a path in the woods, and as you round a bend you suddenly encounter a grizzly bear, just a few feet away, lumbering in your direction. How do you react? Before you have time to think, your body launches a flurry of responses—adrenaline and pain-killing endorphins and some two dozen other hormones surge into your bloodstream, your heartbeat and breathing speed up, blood vessels to your major muscles enlarge as those to your kidneys and digestive system and skin contract, your pupils dilate and your vision narrows to focus on the bear. All of these physiological changes, and many others, happen in a flash. They are orchestrated by one of the oldest portions of the brain, the almond-sized hypothalamus, a structure we share with grizzlies and every other vertebrate animal. By swiftly preparing us to fight or flee or freeze, these mechanisms have enabled our kind to survive threats not only from predators but also from wildfire, rockslides, venomous snakes, and hostile humans.

Now consider a different scenario. Suppose you are walking along that same path in the woods. This time you are listening to a podcast about a new report from the world’s foremost experts on bears, who warn that the farther you proceed on this path, the more grizzlies you will encounter. The scientists cannot predict the exact number of grizzlies, or the exact location, but based on extensive research they are 90 percent certain that if you continue on this path, you will run into overwhelming trouble. Your only way of avoiding the bears, they argue, is to change paths. The podcast goes on to say that the report has been endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences and a host of other scientific organizations. How do you react? This time you will have to think, because your body is not hardwired to deal with more distant and theoretical dangers. The hypothalamus will not bail you out. You will need to engage the most recently evolved portion of your brain, the neocortex, which is involved in reasoning, imagining, processing language, foreseeing the consequences of actions, making ethical choices, and other higher faculties. 

After considering the report, you may decide to turn around and find another path. Why risk being devoured? On the other hand, you may be so attached to this path, or so doubtful about there being any decent alternatives, that you will find reasons to shrug off the experts’ warning. Perhaps you distrust all experts. Perhaps you note that the scientists themselves are uncertain of the danger, since they claim only a 90 percent probability for their prediction. Maybe they are simply out to attract more funding for bear research. Maybe they are conspiring to curb your freedom by dictating where you can walk. Perhaps you imagine that even if there are grizzlies lurking down the trail, they are likely so far away that you’ll finish your jaunt before you reach them, or that if you do reach them you’ll figure out some way of fending them off. Or perhaps you believe that some benevolent deity watches over you and will protect you from all harm. For one or more of these reasons, therefore, you stay on the path. If you guessed right, you may stride along safely, but if you guessed wrong, you will stumble into disaster. 


By now, it will be obvious that the path I have in mind, the one we are so reluctant to give up, is defined by consumerism, population growth, and economic expansion, all dependent on the burning of fossil fuel. Scientific warnings have so far failed to change the trajectory of the human economy, as nation after nation seeks to emulate the levels and types of consumption prevalent in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan. When such warnings have not simply been ignored, they have been dismissed—using the sorts of arguments mentioned above—by advocates of unlimited growth, apologists for the fossil fuel industry, and believers in human exemption from ecological constraints. Taken together, the two scenarios—about near and distant bears—help explain why we react swiftly to immediate threats and why we react slowly, if at all, to remote or intangible threats, such as those posed by our degradation of the environment. 

We often brag, with some justice, about how well we respond to emergencies, such as fires or blizzards or floods. Recall, for example, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. True, looters and scammers sought to profit from the chaos, and government agencies floundered, unprepared for the scale of the disaster; but on the whole, public workers and private citizens responded generously. Thousands rushed to the Gulf Coast to help clean up from the storm surge, and tens of thousands more donated money and goods to aid in the recovery, or welcomed refugees into their homes. No doubt we could have done more, and still need to do more, to relieve the suffering and repair the damage caused by Katrina, but the fact remains that our nation has invested billions of dollars and millions of hours of labor in the effort. 

But could we have prevented the disaster, or made it less likely or severe? Scientists and engineers had been warning for years that New Orleans was at risk of catastrophic flooding due to the draining of coastal wetlands, which act as a buffer against high water, and due also to the likelihood that warming oceans would increase the power of hurricanes. Unlike the flood itself, which galvanized people into action, those predictions were hypothetical, based on research and computer models, and they were largely disregarded. Taking the predictions seriously would have required oil and shipping companies to restore the wetlands they had drained, would have required federal and state officials to push for deep reductions in greenhouse emissions, would have required citizens to pay slightly higher taxes and utility bills in the present to stave off crippling costs in the future—would have required, in short, a degree of cooperation, rational discussion, long-term thinking, and concern for the common good beyond anything our nation has ever shown. Yet these are precisely the qualities we will need, not only as a nation but also as a species, if we are to address the various planetary-scale threats to our well-being—above all that of climate disruption. 


The survival reflexes our ancestors passed on to us are of little use in dealing with the heating of Earth’s atmosphere and the resulting hazards of extreme weather and rising sea level. Neither can those reflexes, honed over thousands of generations, defend us from acid rain, mercury poisoning, a thinning ozone layer, bleaching coral reefs, collapsing fisheries, eroding topsoil, dwindling aquifers, or wholesale extinction of other species. Unlike grizzlies and rockslides, these threats are largely a result of our own actions, because technology has enabled us to multiply our numbers and indulge our appetites on a gargantuan scale. Our evolutionary inheritance has not prepared us to cope with such challenges, for they have arisen gradually in human terms—although swiftly in geological terms—and have gone unnoticed by all but the most careful observers. We will not have thousands of generations to work out solutions; we must do so within the lifetime of a child born today, if that child is not to suffer, along with his or her contemporaries, from our negligence. To find solutions, we will need to reimagine our place in nature, our responsibilities as members of communities, and the meaning of a good life—which is to say, we will require a shift in consciousness as radical as any mutation in our evolutionary history. 

I realize that a staggering proportion of Americans—46 percent, according to a recent Gallup poll—do not believe we have an evolutionary history, and this large figure, unparalleled among industrialized nations, is both a cause and a symptom of our dilemma.1 Those who dismiss two centuries’ worth of scientific research in deference to a literal reading of the Bible are not likely to favor transforming our way of life on the basis of cautions from a chorus of biologists, oceanographers, and atmospheric physicists. Moreover, according to another recent poll, 36 percent of Americans believe that episodes of extreme weather, such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy (2012), are signs of the Biblical Apocalypse, as foretold in the Book of Revelation, and 15 percent believe that the world will end in their lifetimes.2 Even if people who hold such views can be persuaded that conditions for life on Earth are deteriorating and that humans are chiefly to blame, they are unlikely to be persuaded, at least by scientific arguments, that we could or should reverse the process. 

The Bible is a capacious book, however, open to a wide range of interpretations. Over the last two thousand years it has been used to justify crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, witch burning, genocide, slavery, and the subjugation of women; but it has also been used to oppose the same atrocities. Judging by the sales figures for apocalyptic novels and the rhetoric of certain televangelists, a great many Americans embrace a reading of the Bible that treats the Earth—indeed the whole universe—as a mere backdrop for the drama of personal salvation, and they welcome the prospect of a final judgment that would annihilate the planet and every living creature except the righteous believers, who would be raptured up to heaven. Fortunately, many other readers find in the Bible a call to care for Creation. Some religious communities, both inside and outside of Christianity, believe we have an ethical responsibility to preserve the health of the planet and ensure the survival of our fellow species. If we are to muster the vision and grit needed to halt environmental deterioration and begin the work of restoration, the witness of such communities will be vital. 


Just as certain varieties of religion may hinder us and others may help us in addressing climate disruption, so the applications of science may be harmful or helpful, depending on the values they serve. Science has given us the technologies, and to some extent the attitudes, that have wrought so much damage on Earth’s living systems, but it has also given us tools for monitoring the condition of our planet and for undoing at least part of that damage. From observation satellites to deep-sea probes, from orbiting telescopes to electron microscopes, scientific instruments have vastly enlarged the reach of our senses, revealing what would otherwise be imperceptible. They have revealed, for example, the presence of manufactured toxins in our drinking water, the thinning of the ozone layer, and the decline in biodiversity around the globe. They have shown how underwater noise from ships and sonar impair the navigation abilities of whales. They have shown how, at night, the lights on cell-phone towers disorient migrating birds. And they have shown how the abundance of phytoplankton—the source of food for krill and fish and whales, and of half the oxygen we breathe—diminishes as ocean temperatures rise.3

A person living in America for the past half-century might have noticed the felling of forests or paving of farmland to make way for shopping malls, the increase in smog and roadside trash, the posting of rivers as unsafe for swimming, the steep decline in songbirds and frogs, or the dwindling number of stars visible at night against the wash of electric light. Such observations might be dismaying enough to make that person a devoted conservationist, but they would not suffice to demonstrate that human activities are changing Earth’s atmosphere—and therefore the prospects for life—in unprecedented ways. 

For that demonstration we need science, which has extended our knowledge of Earth’s history far beyond the span of a human lifetime. Studies of sediment cores from lake beds have revealed changes in vegetation patterns and climate over tens of thousands of years. Studies of ice cores from Antarctica and Greenland have documented the correspondence between levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in air temperature going back hundreds of thousands of years, since well before the emergence of modern humans.4 Never in all that time, these studies show, did the concentration of atmospheric CO2 rise so rapidly, or so high, as it has since the onset of the industrial revolution, and especially in the last few decades. Through the burning of fossil fuels and widespread deforestation, we have brought about conditions that our species has never before had to face. No wonder we are floundering. 

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, scientific surveys of trends in the global environment have repeatedly warned that if we stay on the path of swelling population and soaring consumption we are headed for trouble—trouble that will make terrorist attacks, economic recessions, and even hurricanes seem trivial by comparison. Yet those warnings have had little effect in slowing, let alone halting, our assault on the planet. The cumulative effect of this assault has been to drive countless species to extinction and to imperil our own. 

Why do we persist? To begin with, our appetites, including the drive to reproduce, are another legacy from evolution, as potent as our reflex reactions to immediate threats. Those biological drives, in turn, have been reinforced by culture. Advertising and the mass media, in their relentless efforts to sell us stuff, exploit our craving not only for sex but also for status, power, security, novelty, and thrills. Free-market capitalism, by rejecting all constraints on the pursuit of profit, elevates our inborn selfishness into an economic ideology. Global corporations, with resources that dwarf those of all but a few nations, pursue growth as feverishly as bacteria spreading to fill a petri dish. Nearly all politicians, regardless of nationality or party, call for perpetual economic expansion—a vote-winning refrain, for it promises to deliver us more and more of everything we crave, or have been coaxed and bamboozled into craving. 

Our reproductive urge has been enshrined in religious doctrine, most disconcertingly in the official teaching of the Catholic Church that the use of contraception is a sin. This doctrine is in keeping with what must be, for an environmentalist, one of the most troubling passages in the Bible, a verse from the Book of Genesis in which God tells the newly created human beings: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”5 The impact of the verse hinges, of course, on how the words subdue and dominion are interpreted—whether as the rule of a strict but benign monarch or as the tyranny of a despot. Although many individuals have been moved by religious faith to behave as careful stewards, in the aggregate we have behaved, with or without instruction from the Bible, like despots: destroying habitat, disturbing natural systems, appropriating more and more of Earth to our exclusive use. 


Our global population has doubled since the first Earth Day and has nearly tripled since my birth in 1945. And these are only the latest leaps in our numbers. At the time the command “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” was recorded in the Book of Genesis, the human population totaled fewer than five million; today, it is over seven billion—more than a thousandfold increase. We have left our imprint everywhere, from the PCBs in polar bear fat to immense rafts of plastic in the oceans. Sulfur from coal-burning electric utilities in the Ohio Valley, which power the machine on which I am writing, has poisoned hundreds of lakes in the Adirondack Mountains. Radiation leaking from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan has been detected in air and water across the United States.6 Nighttime photographs of Earth from space show a smear of lights across every land mass except Antarctica, and nations are now vying to reap the resources of that frozen continent. At the opposite pole, where the area of sea ice is shrinking year by year, the prospect of an ice-free Arctic Ocean has attracted the interest of oil companies, which see an opportunity to pump yet more carbon from underground.  

We have multiplied and filled the Earth with a vengeance. Most of our population growth has occurred in the past century, thanks primarily to modern medicine, industrial agriculture, and the ever-increasing power of technology to manipulate nature. The manipulation of nature, rather than knowledge for its own sake, has been the overriding goal of science since the time of Francis Bacon and René Descartes. Scientists may be inspired by a desire for basic understanding, but the governments, corporations, and foundations that finance their research almost always want weaponry, energy, merchandise, or medicines. This drive has given us penicillin as well as radioactive waste, electric light as well as acid rain, computers as well as computer viruses, the internal combustion engine as well as rising sea levels. 

That we have been both cursed and blessed by the applications of scientific discoveries is obvious enough. Less obvious is the way the habits of mind that gave rise to modern science have shaped how we view ourselves in relation to nature. Scientists could only begin to make rapid progress in understanding how the universe works by conducting research as if they were standing outside of nature and looking on objectively, and as if nature itself were a machine governed by laws rather than by the whims of spirits or deities. Over time, the achievements and prestige of science have made it easy for us to forget the hypothetical as if, and to imagine that nature really is a machine, and that we really do stand apart from it. Although the mechanical model has been largely discarded by scientists, and especially physicists, the sense of a fundamental separation between us and the rest of nature persists both inside and outside the laboratories. 


Our readiness to regard ourselves not as one species sharing a planet alongside millions of others, but as a unique tribe—perhaps even a divinely appointed one, apart from and superior to all the rest—is convenient and flattering. Such a view makes it easier for us to justify damming rivers, placing bounties on wolves, poisoning prairie dogs, turning rain forests into pastureland, blowing the tops off mountains for coal, blasting shale deposits for natural gas, mining tar sands for oil, splicing genes, splitting atoms, and otherwise meddling in nature. The same mindset inspires notions of sowing the oceans with iron and launching sunshades into orbit to mitigate global heating, and even visions of colonizing the moon or other planets to compensate for having exhausted the resources of Earth. Had the ancient writers of scripture known there were billions of other planets scattered across billions of galaxies, the Book of Genesis might have instructed us to be fruitful and multiply and fill the universe. 

With each added layer of technology that insulates us from the discomforts and demands of nature, we find it easier to believe that we really are separate beings—lords of Creation free of the constraints that affect every other species. What began with the harnessing of fire and the fashioning of stone tools has led to antibiotics and supersonic aircraft and the World Wide Web. Digital devices linked to the Internet now enable us to dwell almost continuously in a sensory realm of our own choosing, a realm that may contain nothing except human artifacts and the voices and images of other people. In other words, technology has made it possible for us to indulge in a kind of collective narcissism, shutting out everything except reflections of ourselves and our clever works. 

A great many people choose to dwell inside this technological bubble during many if not all of their waking hours. Believers in human exceptionalism assume that any breach in the bubble can be mended by more technology. If our swelling population pumps the aquifers dry, we will desalinate seawater. If pests blight our genetically engineered crops, we will engineer new food sources. If we poison the atmosphere, we will move inside domes. If we exhaust the supply of minerals on Earth, we will mine asteroids. 

However convenient and flattering the belief in our separation from nature may be, it is an illusion, and a dangerous one. If, as individuals, we imagine that our skin is the boundary between us and the rest of nature, we will have to give up breathing, for the air that we draw in has passed through countless other organisms; we will have to give up drinking water, for every drop has cycled again and again through the oceans and atmosphere, through the roots of plants, through brooks and rolling rivers; we will have to give up eating food, for every morsel comes from the soil or the seas, nurtured by energy from the sun. 

Even inside our skin, there are no boundaries between us and the rest of nature. Scientists have identified more than ten thousand species of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes that live in the human body. Of the roughly hundred trillion cells that make up a human being, 90 percent or more are microorganisms, which contain hundreds of times as many genes as are contained in our strictly human DNA. And within those cells there are mitochondria, which are thought to have originated as primitive bacteria and which carry their own genome. These other species are not invaders; they have coevolved with us in a symbiotic relationship. We provide a habitat for them, and they provide essential services for us, such as digesting our food, turning that food into energy, and maintaining our immune system. So a human being is an ecosystem, kept alive and healthy by the astoundingly intricate cooperation of trillions of organisms.7 Every atom in this walking, talking ecosystem comes from the Earth, and every one of those atoms heavier than hydrogen or helium was fused in explosions of previous generations of stars. Knowing all of this, how can we sustain the illusion that we stand outside of nature? 


To leave the ruinous path we’re on, we must begin by admitting that it is ruinous, not only for millions of other species—including grizzly bears—but also for ourselves. In some countries, this recognition has begun to sink in, shaping public policy and private actions: Germany, for example, now produces 25 percent of its electricity using wind and sun, and aims to reduce energy consumption to 50 percent below current levels by 2050. Yet in the United States, to judge from surveys and media coverage, most public officials, corporate executives, think-tank pundits, and ordinary citizens have so far been unwilling to take even such a fundamental first step. We preach and pursue growth and more growth, refusing to acknowledge any future dangers that would cut into present votes or profits or ratings or pleasures. This skepticism, however, is highly selective, for those who discount scientific warnings about the deterioration of Earth’s living systems commonly trust the science behind medicines, automobiles, airplanes, computers, and every other technology that serves our interests without requiring us to change our ways. 

Clearly, science alone will not persuade enough of us, quickly enough, to change course. Perhaps nothing will. Perhaps we are bound to pass through what biologists call a population bottleneck, a drastic reduction in our numbers due to famine, floods, epidemic disease, and violent conflict over dwindling resources. Nor is this only a distant prospect. The United Nations estimates that there are already tens of millions of environmental refugees, forced to migrate or perish, and that the number is rising each year. Rich nations may be insulated for a time from the worst of these conditions, but eventually the refugees will cross their borders, as will high waters and invasive diseases and intensifying storms. If human beings do pass through such a bottleneck, the survivors will face conditions as harsh and grim as any faced by the most desperate poor in today’s world. They will pick over the debris of a collapsed civilization, on an Earth bearing only a fraction of the species alive today. To be sure, life will continue and take on new forms, as it has following previous mass extinctions, but how long and how well humankind will continue in that depleted world is uncertain. 

If one refuses to accept such a future as inevitable, as I do, then one is obliged to imagine how we might avoid it. We must begin by taking seriously the knowledge provided by science. I say seriously, rather than slavishly, because such knowledge is always provisional, open to refinement or correction as new data and new models emerge, and our views must be open to correction as well. In projecting scenarios for trends in the climate, oceans, arable lands, and biodiversity over the next decades or centuries, scientists, like my fictional bear experts, offer probabilities, not certainties. How could they do otherwise, given the bewildering complexity of Earth as a biophysical system and the impossibility of predicting how humans will act? Will we continue on our current path of growth, consumption, and pollution until ecological disasters force us to change? Or will we decide, individually and collectively, to take precautions now and pursue a different path?  

In our private lives, we are accustomed to taking precautions in light of probabilities. That is the basis of insurance, preventive medicine, and mechanical maintenance. Climate skeptics often argue that we should not spend money or phase out the burning of fossil fuels in order to avert ecological havoc since the havoc might not occur, yet most of the same people buy fire insurance without waiting for their houses to burn. They change the oil in their cars without waiting to see whether chugging along on the old oil will eventually cause the engine to seize up. They quit smoking without waiting to see whether, by continuing, they will end up with lung cancer. They take medicine to lower their blood pressure without waiting to discover if hypertension really does cause heart attacks and strokes. 

People are far more willing to make such efforts out of concern for their personal well-being, yet the logic is the same for acting on behalf of our common well-being. Thus, refurbishing bridges helps to forestall their collapse; providing food at school for poor children helps to ensure they will become healthy and productive adults; limiting the catch in ocean fisheries helps to assure a sustainable harvest over the long term; creating state and federal parks, forests, and wilderness areas preserves these lands for public use. Such precautionary logic also undergirds recent proposals for a carbon tax that would be levied at the point when fossil fuel is extracted from the ground. By even the most hostile reckoning, such a tax would cost the typical household far less than it currently pays for property insurance, and the bulk of the revenue collected, distributed equitably to all citizens, might reduce the per-household cost to zero. By creating an incentive for reducing the role of fossil fuel in our economy and for increasing the role of conservation and renewable energy, a carbon tax would help shield us against the worst effects of climate disruption, benefitting not only every human alive today but all those who will come after us, as well as all of our fellow species. 

What might move us to go beyond self-concern to spend money and effort on behalf of the common good and future generations? We might be moved by admiration for the human experiment, with all its music and mischief, its poetry and promise. We might be moved by religious traditions that view the Earth and its creatures as sacred, and view human beings as responsible, because of our gifts, for maintaining the health of the living community. We might be moved by the grandeur of nature and by gratitude for the miracle of life, with or without believing in a deity. We might be moved by love for children or chickadees, for humpback whales or honeybees—indeed, for any and all creatures, desiring that they continue to flourish. We might be moved by the examples of those many people, across our land and abroad, who have devoted their lives to reducing suffering and fostering well-being. We might be moved by art, which enlarges the reach of our sympathetic imagination and answers the world’s beauty with beauty of its own. 


The inventive, shaping power that animates art and science is continuous with the power that shapes and drives the universe. People have referred to that power as Yahweh or God, Brahman or Tao, and by a thousand other names. If by naming this ultimate reality we claim to have understood it, then we delude ourselves. Yet if we discard all such names as archaic or misleading, we are still left with the mystery of how the universe came to be, how it continues, how it happens to obey the physical laws we observe, and how it keeps generating new forms. One need not believe that this nameless power takes any notice of us, let alone that the cosmos was made for our benefit, to marvel at where we live, and to yearn to preserve the resilience and glory of our home planet. 

Evolution has not prepared us to escape our current impasse; to curb our appetites or our numbers; to care for the well-being of strangers on the other side of the river, let alone on the other side of the world; nor to care about strangers who will live on Earth long after we are gone. Insofar as humanity has been moved to such caring, the change has come about through culture rather than biology. Our ways of thinking, and consequently our ways of acting, have adapted far more rapidly than our bodies to changing conditions—as witness the shift in attitudes toward slavery, homosexuality, the rights of women, and the needs of other species. Our evolutionary inheritance makes us suckers for advertisements and flag-waving wars, for sugar and sex, but it also provides us with a brain capable of gazing back at the universe and deciphering how nature works, a brain capable of inventing the calculus and composing symphonies, a brain that keeps envisioning new and superior ways of living. 

There is no guarantee we will achieve a way of life that sustains a humane civilization while maintaining the health of the planet. We may already have done too much damage, consumed too much of Earth’s bounty. The institutions we have created—armies, corporations, bureaucracies—may thwart any changes that threaten their power or profits. If to be optimistic is to feel confident that things will turn out well for our species, then I am not optimistic. I am hopeful, however, which means I believe that, no matter how things might turn out, there is good work to be done right now—steps we can take toward a future in which humans live in harmony with one another and with the rest of nature. 

Millions of people are taking such steps, in poor nations as well as rich ones. Recognizing the impact of an expanding population, they are choosing to produce fewer children. Instead of identifying themselves as consumers, they see themselves as creators, providers, stewards. They rely less on money and more on imagination. They make their own art and tell their own stories instead of surrendering to canned entertainment. They conserve energy and derive more of that energy from wind and sun. They practice and teach the skills necessary for meeting basic needs. They defend their lands and waters from abuse, on behalf of the whole living community. Whether enough of us will make such choices, and do so quickly enough, who can say? We are a young species, unfinished, still discovering our way. In order to live sustainably on a finite planet, we need not change our nature, we need only unfold the potential inside us.



1. These results, from 1 June 2012, are consistent with those that Gallup has found since beginning the poll in 1982. In addition to the 46 percent who agreed with the statement that “God created humans pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so,” another 32 percent agreed with the statement that “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process.” That leaves only 22 percent who agreed with the statement that “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in the process,” a view held by the overwhelming proportion of biologists.

2. A survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, reported on 12 December 2012. 

3. Jane Kay, “Ocean warming’s effect on phytoplankton / NASA satellite data show how global climate change hurts marine food chain,” San Francisco Chronicle, 7 December 2006. Accessed 25 February 2013.

4. Justin Gillis, “Study of Ice Age Bolsters Carbon and Warming Link,” New York Times, 28 February 2013.

5. Genesis 1:28; New Revised Standard Version.

6. Mark Clayton, “Traces of Japanese radiation detected in 13 U.S. states,” Christian Science Monitor, 28 March 2011. Accessed on 20 February 2013 at

7. Gina Kolata, “In Good Health? Thank Your 100 Trillion Bacteria,” New York Times, 13 June 2012; Rob Stein, “Finally, A Map of All the Microbes on Your Body,” National Public Radio News, 13 June 2012. Both articles are reporting on preliminary results from the federally funded Human Microbiome Project, as published in a series of scientific papers appearing in June 2012 in Nature and PLoS.


Scott Russell Sanders lives in the hill country of southern Indiana, where he has written more than twenty books of fiction and nonfiction, including A Conservationist Manifesto (Indiana University Press, 2009) and Hunting for Hope (Beacon Press, 1998). His most recent books (also from IU Press) are Stone Country: Then & Now (2017), a documentary narrative made in collaboration with photographer Jeffrey Wolin, and Dancing in Dreamtime (2016), a collection of eco-science-fiction stories. He is currently finishing his portion of Ordinary Wealth, fifty brief tales written in response to photographs by Peter Forbes.