Elisabet Sahtouris
with Michael Mendizza

M: You made an observation - not only is this a really dynamic time but also the opportunity for new, wonderful, positive things to crack open. When I read the newspapers and look at the politics, the chaos, at all of the dark things that we’re seeing, that was a really bright observation. I’d like to look at that and talk a little about your background as a Biologist and how that background, looking at living systems, brought you to such an optimistic observation - that our glass is definitely half full rather than hall empty.

E: I started out very early as a child asking what I didn’t know were the big philosophical questions of the ages but basically who are we, where’d we come from and where are we headed? And I was allowed to run free in the woods as a child and on the Hudson River in the Hudson Valley. I still have its mud between my toes. That was a wonderfully creative experience because there were no grown ups watching and you really got to explore things in ways that I don’t see my grandchildren being allowed to do.

I wanted to study Biology. My parents said science was for boys and I ended up having to do four years of art school and then getting into Biology. And as an Evolution Biologist with a post dock at the American Museum of Natural History in New York I’m really a Past-ist but a Past-ist with a very long time frame and of course I really want to know where we’re headed and that’s a Futurist. So I’m a Pastist in order to be a good Futurist.

If you don’t know where you’ve come from it’s very difficult to see what the possibilities are for where you’re headed. And I found that science didn’t really answer this question and thought they were more philosophical than scientific. Of course the ancient Greeks named science, Phyllosopheus which meant study nature to get guidance in human affairs. That was their purpose and that was why I had gone into science.

So there I was trying to see whether the past made sense in the terms I was taught it in science and finding that the Darwinian Theory, which was the biggest theory as far as evolution biologist, was lacking. It talked only about hostile competition in scarcity basically and said nothing about all the wonderful cooperative things I saw in nature, including our own fabulous bodies.

We’re made of up to a hundred trillion cells, each of them as complex as a large human city, each of them with 30,000 recycling centers and a thousand free money banks and we’re not aware of it. This is the most cooperative arrangement you could possibly imagine. We’re just beginning to really understand the nano world and how it’s immense complexity, how do a hundred trillion cells get along, keeping us healthy through a whole lifetime? These were the kinds of questions I was asking and so I had to look into history.

Who was Darwin? How did it happen? And I found that he got his theory from Thomas Malfosse we’d heard about in high school. I worked for the East India Company, the first great multi-national on the planet. The very one we dumped tea into Boston Harbor by protesting because we didn’t like the way it handled our lives and isn’t that a reflection of the present? So Malfosse was commissioned to find out what the resources of the world were and came back with this theory that said humans are always going to outstrip their food supplies they’ll never be enough, so we’ve got to get what we can get from other places in the world. And it gave them license therefore to exploit Africa and India and wherever they could get their hands on good resources. Well Darwin was a family friend of Malfosse 'sand in the origin of species he actually says of his theory “This is the doctrine of Malfosse applied to every aspect of nature”.

Well there was a socio-political rationale for exploitation now being put on to nature as if it were its main way of being. Now meanwhile the Soviet Union picked up Kropotkin's studies of cooperation in nature. That became kind of untouchable for us in the capitalist West which really like the competition mode.

When I looked at nature what I found was that young species are very competitive. They take all the resources they can get, they occupy as much territory as they can and they fight off their competitors, pretty feisty creatures at that stage, but if they don’t kill themselves during that stage, if they don’t go extinct in these battles they begin to negotiate some differences, work out cooperative schemes and basically discover that it’s much more economically efficient and cheaper to feed your enemy than to kill them. 

If we look at our pentagon budget and we see how much money it spends to level a country and then pretend it’s re-building it and drag that on as long as possible, it’s a ridiculous amount compared to what it would have taken to overthrow a dictator and help the people themselves to get beyond where they were which was already pretty good in the case of Iraq. 

So I constantly saw how what I learned in the biological world could be applied to what’s going on for us in the human world. And I came to see the process of globalization as exactly that transition phase where our species moves out of hostile competition into mature cooperation.

And now on top of that we’ve got a hot age coming on. It’s not an ice age. We might have flipped into an ice age at this point in the great cycles of what the planet does but we humans have tipped the balance in favor of the temperature going up rather than down through the emissions we’ve loaded our atmosphere with, all the fossil fuels we’ve dug up and spewed back into the air, all that carbon that nature buried that we’ve liberated against.

And so while humans have actually gotten to a dozen ice ages quite nicely. We haven’t experienced a hot age before. The last one happened about fifty-five million years ago. Now the temperature of Earth right now is about 6/10ths of one degree centigrade average year round value hotter than a baseline from the 1950’s t the 1980’s. if we go one degree centigrade more up then we are in a situation where fifty-five million years ago with that temperature the oceans were sixty or more meters higher than they are today. That’s about fifty stories n a skyscraper. When I stand in Tokyo for instance which is very much at sea level and I look at what if the cut off point here were fifteen stories up on all these buildings? 

You realize thirteen of the largest twenty cities in the world are going to go under water and we’re going to have to move somewhere. We also know that our economy worldwide is now unsustainable and I love that word because what does unsustainable mean? It means cannot last, must be changed. And that means we now have a mandate to reinvent the way we live on the Earth unless we want to carry our cities uphill brick by brick and have the same unsustainable situation going on. We have to reinvent how we live on the planet.

M: When you were talking with Ken Wilber about similar issues one of the things you brought up was how immature we are as a species.

E: The whole species.

M: I’d like you to open that up a because I think we go through the same process individually.

E: It’s interesting that we know about our own maturation as individuals that we go through a childhood where we’re very dependent and then we get into a feisty adolescence where we get pretty competitive and often hostile but we expect people to mature into cooperative adults, being socialized into community and all that. And that’s exactly what you see in nature from the most ancient ancestors we have on this planet which were the are-key bacteria, the ancient bacteria that had the Earth to themselves for half of the time the Earth was alive. It’s about four billion years of life on the planet and the first two billion years were all about bacteria. They had the planet to themselves, they coated it, they dug in as deep as we can dig today, they flew as high in the air as we can fly, they were wildly successful but they also caused the same kinds of problems that we cause today. 

For instance the first ones ate up all the free sugars that were there for them to consume and caused global starvation. So they had to get really inventive, and they did, they invented photosynthesis, in other words they harnessed solar energy to make food out of what was left which was sunlight, minerals and water. We’re always going to have those on this planet and Daniel Nocera at MIT says if we want to meet the energy needs of our human future, the only way we can really meet them is if we can figure out how to photosynthesize at our human level. We don’t know how to do that yet. But it would meet our needs forever in a perfectly clean way.

Well almost clean because those ancient bacteria that photosynthesize to make food were giving off a nasty gas that got a lot of them in to trouble, we call it oxygen. So again there was a problem, if was global pollution. After the Earth soaked up all that oxygen and the water soaked it up, it got into the atmosphere, there hadn’t been any to speak of before this, and a lot of bacteria had to go underground to get away from the oxygen. It really caused troubles. But again nature got creative in crisis and a third way of making a living on the planet was invented that is respiration. It’s what our cells do. It uses oxygen to break up food molecules and that’s how it makes its living, it’s energy from doing that.

So again and again we saw during that time when there was a huge diversity of kinds of bacteria and they invented things like electric motors to get around faster, actually grow inside bacteria and you can google bacteria motor and see the schematics, they look just like ours, and they invented the first worldwide web. They were able to trade information in that great worldwide information language we know as DNA, genes. They could transfer genes among themselves. That’s why we can’t specieate bacteria and it’s why when we fight them with anti-life coats, anti-biotic, they can come right back and reinvent themselves so that they’re not harmed by them.

So these magnificent invisibly small ancient ancestors of ours went through that whole process of a lot of hostile competition and eventually all the different types got together and formed a community, each of them giving up some of their personal DNA to the central library of genes of information that we call a nucleus and that cell is the only cell to evolve other than bacterial cells in the entire history of Earth. All of the living creatures that we know, that we look around nature and we see the trees, the plants, the fungi, the animals, each other, everything, is made of that kind of cooperative cell.

Halfway through the Earth’s life we see that cooperation is the biggest leapt there’s ever been in evolution and then we see it again when those big cells spend another billion years competing and chewing each other up and whatever. Finally after another billion years they get together and form multi-celled creatures which are cooperative. That’s what we are. So those two great leaps have happened and now we have globalization as our turn to get out of hostilities and into cooperation.

M: You’re taking the principles that have happened for billions of years and making them present. We have those bacteria. We are these cooperative structures. We don’t think of ourselves as that, we think of ourselves as unique individuals. I was thinking about the intellect.

E: They had intelligence but not intellect.

M: How did bacteria achieve so much without what we call intellect?

E: One of the things that worried me in science was the basic creation story that science tells us. Every culture has always had some kind of a creation story to guide people to tell them what kind of universe they live in and who they are in relation to it and that guides their behavior and most of those stories came from various religions, whether they were the Eastern religions like Buddhism and Taoism and Batic Science or the Western or desert religions or Abrahamic religions which is Judaism Islam and Christianity.

They’re creation stories, were the stories that guided people’s lives. After the enlightenment and the formation of secular space which happened because the church had kind of rejected science but the new industrial entrepreneur’s made friends with the scientists, needing them for engineering purposes and later advertising and all kinds of things, and so church and state lost power to industry and science.

In our secular state, for that reason, it’s science that tells us the creation story that we live by and that creation story comes primarily from physics and biology. Physics tells us this is a non-living universe that formed itself accidentally from a big bang origin but because it was a big bang origin everything that’s been spreading out ever since and that’s called an entropic decline, the universe is non-living, non-intelligent, is running down by entropy. It has no meaning, it has no purpose. That’s part one of the story. 

In comes the Darwinian biology that says and while it’s all running down, life is fighting an uphill battle that it will ultimately lose and it’s in struggle and scared that you could get what you can while you can. Now I ask you if that isn’t the most depressing creation story any culture has ever written and is it a surprise that we have a consumer society to placate ourselves if anything slides downhill?

Well the new physics is very creative and is basically telling us that the universe isn’t really running down. If you look through a telescope you see you’re looking at radiation and you see things moving apart. You don’t see the gravitation that’s pulling things together. That’s an invisible force. So when we get a good unified theory in physics it will show that radiation and gravity are in balance and that the universe isn’t running down. Now we also can look back to those Eastern religions or philosophies, all of which had the universe starting with a field of consciousness, a limitless, featureless field of basic awareness light love consciousness. And within that field matter begins to form, light congeals into matter and the universe progresses always having consciousness as its fundamental source component and ever there.

So Western Science made up this concept of non-life. All cultures know the difference between life and death and they understand recycling but no other culture has ever even suggested that the universe is non-living which means it never was alive, it’s different from dead.

And then science had to explain how in a non-living universe do you get life out of non-life, intelligence out of non-intelligence, consciousness out of non-consciousness. And for me it became impossible to believe that if you watched dumb mud for millions and billions of years it would ever become an intelligent being. 

So I looked at the very foundations of Western Science and saw that the non-living universe was purely a belief, an assumption that scientists who were enamored of machinery, who were inventors, the European founders of science, and said to themselves, wow, what if the whole universe were machinery?

The ancient Greeks had talked about spheres within spheres and in the resonance they made these balls of yarn models of the planetary systems and all that. If the universe were machinery we could understand it because we ourselves invent machinery. 

Day Clark actually said God is the grand engineer who invents the machinery of nature and then puts a piece of God mind in its favor of robots which is man so that he too can invent machinery. Now that was a logically complete theory but when science later decided it had no need for the hypothesis of God, it had no right to keep machinery as the basic metaphor for nature because machinery doesn’t exist without inventors that have a purpose and assemble things to meet that purpose. So in a sense science became illogical from its foundations up after they removed the intelligence and purpose.

Now if you go to the Eastern philosophies you don’t have to remove anything, it’s complete and there is no outside agent inventor God. The universe itself is sacred intelligence and its business is creating life forms. So that’s a long answer to your question about were ancient bacteria intelligent or not. And I say oh yes they were and scientists today who are studying bacterial colonies and how they reinvent themselves under stress have come to the conclusion that they work with group mind, what we would call telepathy, to communicate things across billions of individuals when there’s no time to explain that in chemical or physical terms.

M: Let’s open this idea of group mind and communication throughout the group by including a theme Joseph Chilton Pearce has been developing in his last few books - the idea that culture is a field effect.

E: Right now the most interesting thing that’s happening via the internet among young people is what’s happening to language. I was very concerned for a while with text messaging and so forth. I think most of my colleagues as well said, oh there goes the language. They’re reducing it down to this simplistic shorthand and what’s going to happen to literature and wow in China the most highly paid novelist is writing novels in text language, very short, it doesn’t take much paper, and then I started realizing that at the same time young people were building a language of emoticons.

It starts with a little happy face, smiley face, and then there was a sad face and the kissy face and the scared face and the nervous face. There is now an alphabet of about fifty-eight emoticons. It’s not an alphabet, it’s a set of whole concept shorthand. There are more than single words embedded in each emoticon.

By reducing the amount of text and adding symbols for emotions something very interesting is going on because the person you’re talking to knows how you’re feeling in that moment and that sets up an energy field. This can communicate without time-space interference. When you don’t have to think up so many words and are making this emotional connection, you are setting up a situation in which telepathy can build very easily.

A friend who is very, very physic and can roam levels of the universe told me years ago, the internet will grow as fast as the internet and that’s what I see happening now. It’s amazing. Young adults today are the first generation of humans who can talk to each other around the globe. Not only are they talking they’re connecting and they could make decisions not to kill each other over any differences. I think of ancient bacteria negotiating their differences and forming cooperatives and I watch the internet as the largest self-organizing living system on the planet. It isn’t made of the machinery, it’s made of the people who just use the machinery to connect the way bacteria used their motives to get around.

M: It’s great to use this bridge between the internet and bacteria, it’s fabulous. Let’s move towards why you feel optimistic that the imperial mind set, of old fixed beliefs, which has been around a long, long time, may be running out of steam and this other cooperative force is gaining.

E: We humans have about a six thousand year legacy of empire building and empire building has always been in a win/lose economic mode where relatively few people benefit from the labors of many and the resources of many that are often stolen from them outright. That, to us, is a long legacy. It’s almost as long as we know about our civilizations. So it’s a big thing for us to overcome.

But when I look at humanity as an Evolution Biologist I see this so as part of the immaturity of humanity that’s on the brink of changing. And the prophets of globalization, which is the biggest thing that’s happening for humanity, I mean it’s huge, everything use to be local and now we’re global and at the same time many people are thinking also beyond global and having a cosmic perspective, looking at the Eastern Philosophies which have been enormously influential in our culture to get us to look inward as well as outward, to meditate and discover that there’s a whole world inside that science has denied. That’s all part of the process of globalization, bringing ideas from other cultures to each other.

What we also see in the process of globalization is, we just talked about the internet, that our communications have gone from one to one telephone to one to many broadcasts to now many to many conversations globally and we see that we can exchange money over all languages and cultures. 

Dee Hock who founded Visa set that up as a completely cooperative system which it isn’t anymore because Citibank has monopolies now for example because our U.S. State Department changed the rules for how to operate. Nevertheless, this ability to go across all languages and cultures with money transactions is important to a cooperative globalization.

Air Traffic Control works cooperatively. Even when countries are at war the sky’s are kept neat and orderly and relatively few accidents happen. We have the United Nations that’s been going now for quite some over half a century and have many cooperative programs. The sciences cooperate. The religions have more frequent world parliaments of religions. International organizations interface dialogues everywhere. We have international treaties. We have an international court. Even is the U.S. Government doesn’t agree to some of these things, most of the world does agree to them.

So we see enormous amounts of cooperation coming in. And before the U.S. invasion of Iraq we saw millions of people in cities all over the world saying “NO”, war is out, we don’t want to do that anymore. We can grow up. All over the world parents tell children don’t hit each other, don’t call each other names, don’t take things away from each other. Are we suppose to say to parents, get real, turn on your televisions, that stuff is old hat. If it’s old hat or is it so new still that we haven’t been able to carry it out as adults because it gets wiped out in our heady adolescence feisty competitive phase and we don’t make it to that maturity as a species? But when you look at globalization this way you see that the main trend is towards cooperation and that it’s that old legacy from the empire building wind moves economics that’s still out of whack.

M: That power structure is still in place. We did invade Iraq. These are cultural patterns that are opposed to the cooperation you are describing. Why do you feel optimistic that there’s natural evolution towards cooperation with nature’s agenda?

E: Although we can cooperatively exchange money around the globe through Visa cards and things like that, the money system itself was invented by empire builders for the purpose of concentrating wealth. The whole business of interest, the banks lending you the money and then you have to pay back more than you got means that all the money that’s been lent out into the society is not enough to pay all the loans back because the interest doesn’t exist. The interest basically we’re taking away from each other so that some of us can pay our debts. And that kind of a money system is at complete odds with the money system in your body which is set up only to make an economy run smoothly. 

Basically an economy should balance its production and consumption. If you go into yourself and see what happens, it’s basically the little banks, the little mitochondria, once free living bacteria, are issuing credit cards with a spending limit and when that’s done you go back to the bank and they give you a new credit limit, never charging you interest, much less even paying the principle. So it is possible to do very different money systems if your goal is just to keep an economy going.

If your goal is to concentrate wealth that gives a limited number of people great power over other people. And in the present world obviously politics and economics have become tightly coupled so that we have big business and government working hand in hand and it’s a very powerful force. It makes wars in order to keep up this win/lose economy. However, we see in nature That this kind of juvenile mode is short lived. It could do us in. 

However, what we’re seeing instead is, for example, Paul Hawken's new book about more than a million NGO’s. This is a new phenomenon in the world. Non-government organizations, over a million of them, all of which are trying to make a better world one way or another, whether they’re cleaning rivers or doing micro finance for women or protecting species or whatever they’re doing, this is the biggest movement in history, it has no leadership, it has no name.

It is part of a cooperative network similar to what we see in a mature eco system such as the Rain Forest or prairie or a coral reef where the species are all feeding each other and working cooperatively, each one unique, none in charge, and this is the way of the future.

There will not be a centralized world government for humans because we’re never going to agree on where it’s going to be and what language it’s going to speak, etc. We don’t need it. Who’s in charge in the Rain Forest? Nobody. How come all the species know what to do? Because living systems can network, govern themselves. 

At the same time that you see the extreme concentration of wealth creating the biggest rich-poor gap in history, you also see people at the grassroots levels taking matters into their own hands, building sustainable communities, re-foresting areas, fighting against Coca-Cola’s exploitation of water in India, taking the responsibility of citizenship on this planet to govern their own lives locally.

Many decisions that national governments use to make, are now made if not by the corporations by NGO’s, by local communities and so forth. So as an Evolution Biologist you can see this transition happening and the best metaphor for it probably is caterpillar metamorphosing into butterflies which Nory Huddle wrote years ago as a children’s book, a beautiful little book called “Butterfly.”

The caterpillar eats hundreds of times its weight in a single day, it crunches its way through the eco system, it leaves a swamp of destruction behind, never turning back until it’s so bloated it hangs itself up and goes to sleep. Good metaphor for the old system?

Inside its body as it sleeps suddenly things the biologists actually call imaginable discs and later imaginable cells as they develop, pop up in the caterpillar’s body and the caterpillar’s immune system snuffs them. Says what’s that? It doesn’t belong here. It kills them off. But they come up faster and faster and they start to link together and eventually there are so many of them and so many of them linking together that the immune system of the caterpillar fails. It can’t fight them any longer and it then melts down into a new to do soup and the butterfly continues to form.

This metaphor shows us that unlike our previous thoughts that everything will go to pot and then somehow the phoenix will rise from the ashes, we now know that the old system and the new must co-exist for a while. It’s still interdependent. The butterfly depends on the nutrition from the old system so if we imaginal cells, we world changers, we grass roots organizers, we protestors, there are as many ways to make a better world than there are creative individuals to do it and everybody has to find a way they love doing to do it or nobody will want to do it with you. So all this creates a stalemate, that is the rise of the imaginal cells better pray that that caterpillar doesn’t collapse until we’re ready for it. You don’t step on caterpillars if you want butterflies. And if the butterfly is to fly lightly, it depends on the nutrition coming from the old system for quite some time. 

So I say to young people, you’re here not to clean up our mess, you’re here to build the world you want and you don’t have to attack the old world, it’s committing suicide quite nicely. Just build your new world the way you want it, the cooperative, the win/win world, as quickly as you can using alternative energy, doing any kind of technology you want providing you make it one-hundred percent recyclable and don’t put any toxins in it. Go for it! You’re creative. 

This is the most creative time in human history and the hot egg is the evolutionary driver that will push this cooperation. Nothing in human life creates cooperative moods faster than disaster. Every time there’s a Katrina, a tsunami, a fire, whatever it is, people go cooperative like that. They open their hearts, they open their purses, they roll up their sleeves and they help each other. So why shouldn’t the major planetary disaster do the same thing for us? To push us into the cooperative mode that’s absolutely on our evolutionary agenda now.

M: I love the biological model.

E: Age is on our side.

M: I’m going to draw upon some of my cynicism. You’ve got the internet, you’ve got the media, in order to be that pro-active, creative person that you just talked about, it requires motivation and creativity and that requires imagination. Compulsory schooling does precious little to develop imagination and critical thinking. Media definitely retards the use and development of imagination. The dominator model requires a domesticated population. that's what culture does.

M: I love what you’re saying but it implies that that passion and that imagination, compassionate imagination is in place alive and well.

E: I just read an article in Southwest Airlines magazine about people my age being thrown out of the house all the time as children. Go do something else, get out of here. I refer to that as our parent’s social agenda for us, just go out and don’t come back for a few hours. The article said that it was the boredom that grew into creativity because we didn’t have television sets, we didn’t have video games, we didn’t have any of that text messaging or cell phones or anything. We were out in the street in the dark and had to invent games to play and we played a lot of kick the can and various kinds of hopscotch and things like that.

M: But we also explored out in nature and kids don’t have the chance to do that nearly as much anymore.

E: We over-program kids. We start with baby Einstein and competitive mothers doing homework, and huge charts on kitchens walls of everybody’s activities, parents having become drivers to get chauffeurs for their kids and known as someone’s mom rather than who they are in their own life. This has actually robbed kids of the imagination that you use to have to use.

If a book was the best entertainment you could find you had to make up all the pictures. You had to make up the personalities of the characters and stuff and the spoon feeding of media stuff into kids like this I think has really seriously interfered with their imagination. Despite that, you have the rise of, for instance on the internet one young kid decides he wants to help children who are slave slavers around the world and it catches on and suddenly thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of young people are interested in that project and go after it. The internet is liberating creativity.

There may be a mass of stuff we consider mediocre but when everybody is out there making videos and sharing them and wanting to give them away something ferments and creative projects come out. There are fabulous organizations of young people such as Global Youth Action Network. I was with them in Brazil in last fall. A thousand bright-eyed bushy-tailed young people from all over the world who are the leaders of the world coming up very quickly now, and they know how they want to change the world and they’re being inventive. 

One of the things I said to them was you must find out where the children of the rich go to school, the elite that is otherwise going to perpetuate this unsustainable world as long as they can and talk them into being on your side and building a more interesting, more creative, more wonderful world to live in. And they said oh we’ve already got three inheritances promised to us. They were ahead of me. They’re out there. They’re doing this kind of thing. That’s where I take heart.

I think it’s terribly important for young people after they finish high school or college to get out into the world, do some volunteer work, find out how other people live. I think Oprah has done wonders for this society in opening up other cultures and altruism. The desire to help each other live better lives in the world is still there and can be tapped in people. Now again, I use to think because we humans can build scenarios, can see that we’re unsustainable, can map out the future that we would avoid disaster but we haven’t. We’re going to be pushed into it like every other species. Now you couple disaster with the need for creativity and it will push it, it will push it.

M: Let’s play the devil's advocate. We’re going to hell in a hand basket. Now we’ve got to adapt. We’re going to lose 90% of the species, we’re going to collapse and then something new is going to grow, new possibilities.

E: I don’t normally get my inspiration from other species in nature, I also get them from human beings now and then, whether it’s Global Youth Action Network or a group of young people in China. In the late sixties there was a valley in China where there were 500 villages dying of drought, desertification, what most of us are going to be facing in the future, and the young people had nothing to go on but motivation. Things were so bad the old people were drinking kerosene to take themselves out so they wouldn’t have to use up more water. Wherever people are still standing there’s still some water.

Well, the young people cooked up a scheme that they were going to bring water from the nearest river which lay about seventy kilometers across the Tiyong Mountains. Bring water from a river 70 kilometers over a mountain range? It sounded like an impossible scheme but they proposed doing this. The government actually sent out some engineers to check around in the mountains and they came back and said hair brained scheme, flat out impossible, cannot be done and forbade the young people to do this.

As soon as they left the young people began to smelt iron out of their dry red earth in earth built ovens and made hammers, chisels, pick axes and shovels out of the iron that they smelted. This was a time when China was being threatened by the United States, being bombed back into the Stone Age and a lot of self-reliance projects were being taught, how do you start over if necessary and they picked up some of this.

I saw an old black and white movie that they had managed to document a little bit of these kids swinging on homemade rope off the edges of these shear cliffs, not a green thing on these mountains, whacking their pick axes in to get the first toe hold into this mountain. I interviewed the Iron Girls Dynamite Team who with homemade dynamite blasted tunnels through the mountains. The people in the villages were given hammers and chisels and they chopped blocks of stone that were then carried up to build aqueducts bigger than anything the Romans built and the Romans of course also did it without heavy machinery.

They built Roman arches, they built aqueducts across the valleys, they blasted tunnels through the mountains and they brought water across that mountain range. And the old people dipping the first tin cups into it with the tears coming out of their eyes, it was just an amazing experience to be there and see this and see the first fruit trees beginning to be planted in this valley. 

Two years ago I goggled Red Flag Canals and there were the photos, the entire mountainside is a lush green cover now, the valley is green, eleven big hotels, buses of people coming in, parasails all over the skis in this celebratory mode over the miracle achieved at Red Flag Canals. 

It changed my life to see that in 1974. The caption under the picture says “One of the senseless projects carried out in Mount China by primitive peasants or illiterate peasants using primitive tools.” I say senseless project? It changed my life. I knew that motivation has everything over money. If people want to be creative they can do it.