Eco Essay – Embracing Coexistence

June 11, 2015

This Eco News Network Eco Essay, “Embracing Coexistence” by Michael Charles Tobias, PhD, is based on his speech at the Milan Expo 2015 on June 6th and is reprinted here with Dr. Tobias’ permission.

Embracing Coexistence

By Michael Charles Tobias, PhD


“Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden,” Attributed to Jan Brueghel the Elder. Private Collection. (C) By Michael Charles Tobias

Italy has over 200 protected areas. Her ecological progress is very high on the marine side, but quite low on the terrestrial front. As many as 50% of all species in Italy are at a level of concern or significant risk, according to the Italian Committee of the IUCN, or Intl. Union for the Conservation of Nature. The good news, however, is that across Europe as a whole, recent data suggests that nearly a third of the continent is protected, higher than most other regions on earth. (*1)

In 2008 there were approximately 120,000 protected areas on the planet. Today, there are over 208,000 such areas. The problem with this optimistic upwards graph is that so many of these areas are basically grey areas: some could be golf courses, where the biodiversity is limited to grass, sandtraps and non-native fringe forest. That grass is abstracting precious fresh or grey water in the meantime. Other protected areas might refer to ocean reserves where there is no monitoring or policing whatsoever for poachers, as in the case of vast swathes of marine area south of the Maldives, a region of the Indian Ocean known since 2010 as the Chagos Marine Protected Area, comprising 640,000 square kilometers and owned by Britain, thousands of miles away.


A Young Iberian Wolf in Portugal, IUCN-Critically Endangered (Status “D”), Symbolic of the Crisis of Large Vertebrates Across Europe, © M. C. Tobias

A recent New York Times editorial examined how the technologies employed to kill people during World War I and World War II out at sea have now been turned towards schools of fish, with the result that some “85 million metric tons” are taken from the oceans every year. That is the equivalent of about two trillion individual fish, or, the weight of the entire human population at the beginning of the 20th century. (*2)

The global wilderness, and our opportunities for becoming subject to the critical pleasures of communion with nature – the biophilia inherent to our genes, our psyche, our evolution – is ever shrinking. One in six species are likely to go extinct in our generation. The devastation, by all accounts, is accelerating, just as global warming is outpacing our most dire and/or conservative projections.

Mummies in Chile’s high Andes are melting, turning into a mysterious black ooze. Projections for the disappearance under seawater of all the coastal cities in the world have already been rendered and this is the century in which we are quite likely to see this happen, and with it, the exposure of at least 40% of all human beings to forced migration away from where they presently live. With demographics likely to favor more than 10 billion of us sometime in this century, that means 4 billion environmental refugees. Today, Italy is boldly extending humanitarian assistance to the tragedy inflicted upon tens-of-thousands of individuals risking their lives in the Mediterranean to reach Europe. Imagine a condition of billions of such aspiring migrants?


A CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), North America, © M. C. Tobias

And that’s just the beginning of our problems. Ask any almond farmer in California currently closing shop as the worst drought in one thousand years drags on across most of the southwestern United States. Ask children with high rates of lower respiratory infections in Beijing or New Delhi caused by air pollution; ask all of the large mammals in Africa or Southeast Asia under siege by poachers; ask the nearly one hundred billion farm animals slaughtered for human consumption worldwide under Holocaust like conditions.

Never before has the world witnessed an ecological cliff of such magnitude or portent: The famed Paul Ehrlich/John Holdren equation of the mid-1970s, namely IPAT, or I –Environmental Impact, is equivalent to the human Population times its collective Affluence times its Technology. Now, we must put this equation in the same arena with the 1968 proposition by the late Professor Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” whose one line Abstract in the esteemed Science Journal read, “The population problem has no technical solution; it requires a fundamental extension in morality.” (*3) Mahatma Gandhi, following closely upon both the Jain Sage Mahavira, an elder contemporary of Buddha, as well as the 19th century political philosopher John Ruskin’s four revolutionary essays published in book form in 1860, Unto This Last, declared that non-violence, ahimsa in Sanskrit, is the only way, even though absolute non-violence limps.

So with that injunction of a necessary compromise in mind – a practical injunction in this world, most certainly – let me suggest what I’d call, in honor of this gathering, a “Milan Manifesto” of sorts; seven key concerns of mine that hopefully might give rise to positive and solutions-driven reflection.

One: Stewardship is different than anything having to do with the ego. It functions at the level of pragmatic idealism, suggesting the credo, “I feel, therefore I love.” To love unconditionally is not merely a dream, but the reality we can all share, commencing at any instant. It is the positive, progressive, compassionate, non-exclusive, all-abiding global consciousness shared amongst humans and all other sentient beings that, as I would interpret it, Dr. Ervin Laszlo and members of the Club of Budapest have been urging for many years.

A Toda Family, Members of the Last Vegetarian Tribe on Earth, Southern India, © R. Radin

A Toda Family, Members of the Last Vegetarian Tribe on Earth, Southern India, © R. Radin

Two: Sustainability is great music and like all great music, brilliant art, it transcends every presumed cultural, geographical, ethnic or political barrier. There are no limits to what we can achieve, in the most humble and beautiful sense of the word.

Three: Existential science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and I would add to that collection the most critical cornerstone of their implementation, ethics, or ESTEME as I term the grouping, refers to an ontological state of personal being. But its true powers lie in its collective humility. Whereas this current vogue many glibly call “re-engineering” in fact enshrines a human-based arrogance that thinks only of human beings; of human beings as superior to all other species; and which is, in most respects, completely antithetical to the true rewilding of humanity so urgently necessary. What can rewilding mean at this current juncture of such widespread human induced suffering across the planet, with its disparities, inequalities and a degree of biochemical flux unprecedented in 65 million years, since the last planetary extinction event? I will explain.


American Plains Bison, Remarkable Roving Diplomat Who Can Be Said to Symbolize the North American Re-Wilding Initiatives, © M. C. Tobias

Four: To re-wild oneself, as a beginning, is to seek counsel from others – to utilize all of one’s natural gifts – senses, passions, understanding, lack of understanding, openness to the mysteries of the natural world, and a sense of humor and of playfulness as a critical first outreach initiative into the broad, mysterious biological communities of Others. To shed the edifice of Self whilst embracing the prospect of a global compassion that is at once completely curious, tolerant, generous and devoted to the solace of a shade tree, the romance of a rose, corridors of astounding and courageous collaborations – with other people, with other individuals of any and all neighboring species. The superb European Rewilding Network lists among its cornerstone goals, “Large or medium-scale rehabilitations of natural processes, including large herbivores, large carnivores and/or scavengers being present” and “a stewardship anchored in the respect for the land, water, and all living things…” Please go to their website at (*4) From a remote corner of Siberia, where since 1989 to a Pleistocene rewilding effort has been in place, to to similar initiatives, in various degrees across hundreds of millions of acres of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and National Park lands in North America, the rewilding ethic is gaining pragmatic traction. (*5)

Five: We all cohabit; we must collaborate. It should be viewed as our honor, and the most fitting time in human history to embrace the many prospects.

Six: Rewilding everyday steps, equivalent to loving thy neighbor, that are guided by all those universally relevant ethical dispositions Homo sapiens have demonstrated or shown the capacity towards, since the earliest articulation of the ideal of reunion. We saw it in Paris with the near universal refrain, “Je suis Charlie.” We should also be recognizing that “Je suis de la terre,” “Io sono della terra.” Our artistic and spiritual histories as humans commend such primacy: from that peaceable Kingdom enshrined by the Prophet Isaiah to the miraculous depths of biodiversity and drama detailed in the works of countless other philosophers, activists, poets, artists and visionaries of every persuasion throughout human history.


Two Tibetan Friends, Ladakhi Plateau, © M. C. Tobias

Seven: The soul speaks when it is spoken to. The power of unconditional love, when tapped, unleashed, freed from the myriad of constraints of fear, torment, poverty, suffering, gender oppression, racism, violence in every form known to humankind – is the most potent and pure form of energy known to cognition, to habitat, to the future of life. And it is not a difficult thing to achieve, this unconditional love. Of that I am certain. And it also the one globally urgent requirement asked at this time of our humanity. We must work together. It is the one sacred mission that will define our lives, or not. But such love will fail if any one of us is so proud, and ignorant as to turn his or her back on what is, after all, a very private, tenable and universally viable proposition. Again – To Love They Neighbor, All of Us, All of Our Neighbors, not just this one or that one. We are all one.

To conclude, how fitting to engage in this meaningful and loving endeavor in a city such as Milan. After all, at the height of the Western artistic and philosophical Renaissance, as technical as it was emotional, as global as it was personal, we had the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Il Moro Sforza, welcoming one of the most important painters – and painters of nature – of all time – for 17 formative years to this glorious city. From 1482 to 1499 Leonardo da Vinci prospered here, and before he moved on, he completed his fresco, “The Last Supper,” at the Santa Maria delle Grazie. Among its countless interpretations, one can read it as an ecological warning sign for the remainder of the Renaissance, for all of human history moving forward into the future.

Approximately one hundred years after Leonardo’s time in Milan, the Flemish painter, Jan Breughel the Elder also came to this city, where he and Milan’s own Cardinal Federico Borromeo became close friends and joined spiritual forces. At various times between 1592 and 1596, the Cardinal had Breughel to his home and they shared a burning passion for the wonders of Nature. They both saw the Creation as evidence of God’s abundance and beauty and benevolence. (*6) Indeed, as the art historian Arianne Faber Kolb has pointed out, Cardinal Borromeo inspired Breughel to paint his first still life brimming with flowers, as well as his earliest great paradise painting, “The Creation With Adam,” in 1594, which today is to be found in Rome’s Doria Pamphili Gallery. That graceful friendship of a Cardinal and a painter, emblemizes the possibilities for rebirth, the quintessence of the Renaissance, despite the countless challenges before us. Go see that painting, if you can, for in it is intimated all those tens-of-millions of species who share the neighborhood with us. There in the right center, between a stag, a lion, two rabbits and a fox, a horse, a monkey, a peacock, a leopard, a cow, a kitten, and endlessly diverse others, is God whispering or speaking to Adam, both of them no larger in size than the dog or the lamb, also in the foreground. They are all in this world together, a concept long discussed in Indigenous and Asiatic ethical traditions, but revolutionary for the West. It was at that remarkable moment here in Milan, in the early 16th century, that these two friends –Breughel and Borromeo – got it right for all time. Proof positive of a viable and enduring template that visibly commands a very evident truth: our species, in all of its many shades, and bursts of light, has –collectively- what it takes to get it right.


California Condor, A Magnificent Ambassador of Successful Conservation Efforts , © M. C. Tobias

Let us ponder these telegrams from Milan and be inspired to cherish this Earth; and to recognize that our ability to revere and celebrate Nature may well be key to our success or failure as a species, as well as to the survival of all other living beings with whom we are so deeply fortunate to cohabit this wondrous planet.

A Special Thanks to Dr. Ervin Laszlo, Founder and President of the Club of Budapest (,
and to the Republic of Hungary, and the organizers of the Hungarian Pavilion at the Milan Expo 2015.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Charles Tobias ( is a global ecologist whose field research has taken him to over 90 countries. He has worked in ecological antMichael_in_California_Sanctuary[6]hropology, bio-cultural ethics, and large-scale biodiversity conservation; eco-restoration, the saving of endangered species, animal rights, and has a particular focus upon the future prospects for biological evolution. His nearly 50 books (non-fiction as well as fiction) and more than 170 films have been read and broadcast throughout the world. Recipient of the “Courage of Conscience Prize” and a myriad of other awards and distinctions, Tobias has been a Professor at numerous universities and is the President of the Dancing Star Foundation. Michael’s most recent book, Hope On Earth: A Conversation (co-authored with Dr. Paul Ehrlich of Stanford, and Additional Commentary from Dr. John Harte of UC-Berkeley) comes out this Earth Day from the University of Chicago Press.

The author is a contributor to Eco News Network. The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the writer. This essay was printed with permission from the author. Copyright © 2015 by Michael Charles Tobias All photos are provided by and published with permission from Michael Charles Tobias.

Photo credits:

“Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden,” Attributed to Jan Brueghel the Elder. Private Collection. © By Michael Charles Tobias

A Young Iberian Wolf in Portugal, IUCN-Critically Endangered (Status “D”), Symbolic of the Crisis of Large Vertebrates Across Europe, © M. C. Tobias

A CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), North America, © M. C. Tobias

American Plains Bison, Remarkable Roving Diplomat Who Can Be Said to Symbolize the North American Rewilding Initiatives, © M. C. Tobias

Two Tibetan Friends, Ladakhi Plateau, © M. C. Tobias

California Condor, A Magnificent Ambassador of Successful Conservation Efforts , © M. C. Tobias

1. Source: Maiorano, L., Amori, G., Montemaggiori, A., Rondinini, C., Santini, L., Saura, S., & Boitani, L. (2015). On how much biodiversity is covered in Europe by national protected areas and by the Natura 2000 network: insights from terrestrial vertebrates. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12535; See also, “Biodiversity Protection In The E.U.: Expansive But Inefficient,” Conservation Magazine,, Jason G. Goldman | 27 May 2015. See also,
*2 “When Humans Declared War on Fish,” by Paul Greenberg and Boris Worm, May 8, 2015, New York Times Sunday Review,
*3 Science 13 December 1968:Vol. 162 no. 3859 pp. 1243-1248, DOI: 0.1126/science.162.3859.1243
*6 *See Jan Brueghel The Elder – The Entry of the Animals into Noah’s Ark, by Arianne Faber Kolb, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2005, pp.50-53

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