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05-16-1999

Wes Jackson Commencement Address

Noted author and ecological agriculture leader Wes Jackson, president of the Land Institute, today received an honorary doctor of science degree at Clarkson University's 106th Commencement in Potsdam, N.Y. His address to students follows:

President Brown, Board Chair Clark, distinguished board, and most importantly, distinguished graduate students of this great university.

It was 1958 when I sat in a comparable seat in a small church-related college in Kansas-- Kansas Wesleyan. And I was recalling, as I sat here this morning, some of the important things those various professors said to me, not at commencement, but in their offices. One of the comments was "We're not called to success, but we're called to obedience to our visions. That stuck with me.

There's a general reality runs ahead of all that will be said today- that which is said at Commencements will not be remembered. Even so, I can't resist placing a challenge before you, a challenge that is a derivative of a slowly but increasingly recognized awareness, which is this: The self-organizing principles of human economies that have evolved over the last 10,000 years are inherently at odds with the self-organizing principles of ecosystems that have evolved over the last three and a half billion years.

As our economic indicators go up, the ecological indicators go down. Soil erosion on a global level is at an all time high. And at no time since the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago, has there been such a loss of biodiversity in so short a time. And when we think about global warming and the ozone hole, it's sobering to reflect that in this century alone it has been possible for one species to disrupt the earth's biogeochemical processes more than locally. And finally, In this decade of the '90s alone, our planet will have added nearly one billion people, nearly twice as many of us being added in ten years, as the planet supported at the time of Columbus.

We are so in the midst of all this that it's similar to what Marshall McLuhan said years ago when he asked, "Who discovered water? Well it certainly wasn't a fish."

When we are so in the context of the current, it's very difficult to have the perspective. And part of your challenge is to get up on land and out of the water, because to correct our course will require a fundamentally different way of thinking.

In short, fundamentally different ways of thinking about this planet are required. We can no longer be ignorant of evolutionary ecological realities, which we and the rest of creation share. And humanity's charge for the next century, for which you must provide leadership, is to recognize the great commonality of all life forms on this planet. For whether we're a redwood or a whale, a corn plant or a Holstein, it's the same 20 amino acids, and the same four nucleic acid bases that code in the same manner. This is a requirement for us to more harmoniously work to create ways to live within the natural laws. Ecology and economy, which share this same Greek root, can then be reconciled.

And so in closing, the greatest leverage for assisting ourselves in these new ways of thinking will come from remembering an old reality we have nearly lost sight of-- which is that when people, land and community are as one, all members prosper. When regarded as competing interests, all suffer. The new ways of thinking must combine with this old nearly forgotten realization.

I understand in the Jewish faith that the worst thing-- the worst sin-- is to give up on the young. I don't think we can afford to give up on the young, as we enter the next millenium. You have a lot on your plate. And we wish you well. Thank you.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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