The next day, we waited until the sun was low in the sky before we drove down into the Arno River Valley on the way to visit on old friend who lived near Sienna. Idanna remarked on how much it had grown up since her youth, but the industrial sprawl was contained along the main road and it didn’t match the architectural atrocities around most American cities. There were cafés, open spaces, and none the buildings were overwhelming.
Across the valley, we climbed into hills of mixed woods and vineyards, the Chianti country. The hot summer had been a burden to most Tuscans, but wine growers were nervously hopeful that the heat would intensify the grape’s sugar and produce a great vintage.
Teddy Goldsmith lived in an old stone farmhouse overlooking several miles of rolling hills with Siena on the distant skyline. He and his wife were in the process of fixing up the old buildings, preserving the remnants of its history as a convent and a working farm. It was another home built to last forever, through endless permutations. An ambitious, organic vegetable garden was taking shape on a sunny terrace and it provided the vegetables for dinner.
The Goldschmidts were for centuries one of Europe’s banking families – poor cousins of the Rothschilds, but Teddy’s father (the name had become Goldmsith) ran a string of French hotels and married a French girl. Teddy’s younger brother inherited the Goldsmith’s business acumen and made a fortune, leaving Teddy free to save the world. His younger, successful brother knew it was urgent. “I feel like a gambler with a winning hand, traveling on the Titanic,” he said.
Teddy founded Ecology Magazine in 1971, five years after Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, which warned about pesticides. Looking through back issues, I discovered that Teddy was thirty years ahead of his time. At one point Teddy ran for the British Parliament focusing on industrial agriculture. He rode around on a camel carrying a sign that declared, ‘No deserts in Suffolk. Vote Goldsmith’.
He was not at all surprised that PBS wanted to emasculate the messages we had intended for Avoiding Armageddon. People in power don’t want to be held accountable for their actions. They don’t want informed citizens questioning their judgments. And they don’t like complicated solutions. He was not surprised that PBS dumbed the series down into one simplistic, reassuring solution, “Homeland Security.”
Teddy was far more radical than anything we dreamed of in Avoiding Armageddon. The science and engineering I saw as liberating, Teddy saw as disastrous. “Development creates poverty,” he said. “All those people who live in the world’s great slums, they are there because environmental degradation drove them from their homes.”
Teddy has led a world campaign against giant dam projects, which he views as massive transfers of wealth from rural, indigenous people, to corporations and big cities. “It’s unsustainable. There’ll be a massive reduction in population, a third of the people in the world will die within the next twenty to thirty years.” I recalled a conversation with Harvard Professor John Holdren, regarding overpopulation and over consumptions. “If we don’t change our ways, nature will change them for us in ways that are much, much less pleasant.”
“There are even scientists who think that if humans can’t survive in the toxic environment we’ve created, then its humans who have to change.” We talked about genetically engineered people who could adapt to and perhaps even thrive in a polluted and ecologically degraded world. “It just shows that science has lost touch with the real world we live in,” Teddy said. He believes our only hope lies in a re-connection with nature, almost animism, based around bioregions that are natural, where we can learn to live in harmony with nature. “We’ve been out of balance with nature since we abandoned hunting and gathering,” he concluded.
Now that would have been something truly provocative to put into Avoiding Armageddon.
Sipping Teddy’s white wine, nibbling on fresh fruit, the lights of Sienna in the background, the moon rising over the olive trees, sated with good food and conversation, I said to Idanna, “You Tuscans really know how to live.” Idanna replied, “We came here two thousand years before the birth of Christ. It takes time.”
There was something about Tuscany in the summer of 2003 that seemed closer to Teddy’s radical vision than most places I’ve visited on earth. There was a cultural integrity, a close living with the land. In the movie version of Catch 22, the anti-hero, Yosarian, confronts an old Italian in a home destroyed by war. The Italian, ragged amidst his ruined furniture, expressed sympathy for the conquering American. “You are on top now, so you are going to have a lot to loose. We Italians, we have nothing to loose. All we have left is our culture, and you can’t take that away from us.” That remains to be seen, unfortunately.
It was very late when we finally left. Idanna slept. Terence drove. I kept him awake on the long drive back to the farmhouse singing old, lefty folk songs. They seemed appropriate. I was not so far out after all, ultimately a child of the Enlightenment and not the Revolution. The thing was, the Enlightenment itself was now under attack. The songs of resistance and defiance, songs that demanded truth and social justice, songs that stood for the rights of ordinary people, were frightening relevant again.
END of Who Stole My Country