October 08, 2008
Dr. John Ikerd brought his message of ecological sustainability to a crowded conference room in the Public Affairs Center on September 29.
When an audience member told Ikerd that he was ‘preaching to the choir’ during the question and answer session after his speech, the fiery Ikerd said he is taking his unconventional message to not just the environmentalists, but that, “I’ll speak to anyone who asks,” mentioning an upcoming lecture with a traditionally more conservative farmers’ group in Virginia.
Ikerd has written and lectured on the sustainability movement full-time, since retiring from the University of Missouri at Columbia in 2000, where he worked as a professor of Agricultural Economics. Despite the work load, he still doesn’t consider it a job, and said, “I don’t do this for a living, I do it for life.”
And it is precisely in how he looks at life on earth that is at the heart of Ikerd’s message.
“Fundamentally, we have to re-think how the world works and how people fit in it,” said Ikerd. The traditional scientific thinking sees the world is a mechanism, said Ikerd, who views it instead, as an ecosystem.
“Living systems have social capacity, interdependency,” said Ikerd, “No single living system is sustainable, but living communities are sustainable—that’s what seeds are. That’s the reason people have kids.”
“I promoted a stop and think day,” said Ikerd, “If we compromise the quality of relationships, with our family and friends, in favor of making money, we diminish our quality of life.”
The current brand of capitalism, said Ikerd, is at odds with sustainability.
“If we are a society that is driven by the economics, there is no incentive,” Ikerd said. “Economic values are intrinsically individualistic. It makes no economic sense to invest in something after your death,” he said, referring to the future impact of preventative measures against global warming.
Ikerd also used the current rise in food prices, which may be attributed to the increase in production of bio-fuels, to illustrate an issue of “ecological economics.”
“Social goods are hard to measure economically. You need to be paying the full cost of food,” which Ikerd said should include a better wage for migrant workers and a higher bushel price for farmers. “What I’m concerned about are people in other countries who paid 90% of their income on food, and now pay 180%,” he said, “We should be taking care of people and the earth.”
The dwindling amount of fossil fuels means the end of the industrial era, said Ikerd, who also acknowledged the benefits that the age led to. And, as future minded as he is, Ikerd thought that part of the solution to our current ecological dilemma can be found in the past.
“All we have to do is restore classical capitalism and classical democracy,” Ikerd said. Classical capitalism, he defined, as the pursuit of the broader good of life that emphasized taking responsibility for the land and all people. Classical democracy, Ikerd said, can be seen in the Preamble and summed up as uniting for the common good. Classical and sustainable capitalism, to Ikerd, are one in the same.
“In sustainable capitalism, the system regenerates and renews the natural and human systems,” Ikerd said, “We don’t really have capitalism, we have corporatism. We don’t have democracy; I call it corporate-ocracy.”
Ikerd speculated on what impact the recent Wall Street catastrophe will have on our democracy.
“I think we’re in a time of great change,” Ikerd said, “It’s up to the generation that has not made a commitment to a specific way of thinking or a specific way of thinking.”
Humans alone have the ability to anticipate, said Ikerd. This tool is a key to solving problems of sustainability, he said.
“I believe were given this mind for a purpose. I think we have a responsibility.”