When coral reefs start to die, can the rest of the natural world in its current state be far behind? We are living in the visible midst of an extinction event, right up there with the Pleistocene, although luckily not as dramatic as the Permian-Triassic. Corals have been on the planet for a very long time, perhaps 25 million years, and when they start to commit suicide by expelling their symbiotes they are signaling that something is really not right. John Vernon, the author of a Reef in Time, says that when the reefs start to die rapidly, watch out. The world is about to undergo a rather unpleasant change.
I started my professional career in August 1983, on a flight from JFK to Dakar Senegal, on a creaky old 747 loaded with dozens of eager young Americans headed for a world-saving adventure in Mauritania. Peace Corps RIM (Republique Islamique de Mauritanie) was a life-changing experience for me, setting in place a set of values and an uncompromising approach to social change that has fueled me for the past 30 years.
Of all demographic groups in America, middle-aged whites are the only one with a rising death rate. This has come as quite a shock to many demographers, as the New York Times reported last year, since death rates for nearly every other class of people in the world (outside of conflict zones) are declining. As the chart above shows, the causes are mainly "poisonings" -- drug overdoses -- alcohol abuse, and suicide.
In the fall of 1985, my friend Dan and I started a trip across West Africa. We had no particular plan in mind, not all that much money, and at that point we had never heard of mobile phones, HIV or the internet. We sort of hitchhiked, sort of wandered around, and mostly woke up each day and figured out what we were doing for the next 24 hours. Without really planning it out, our goal, in retrospect, was to be sure to be some place each evening where we could find cold beer and women who spoke English, French or Pulaar. This plan worked pretty well in Dakar, Bamako, Ouagadougou, Abidjan, Lome and Cotonou. It did not get us into Nigeria or Cameroon, a destination we picked for no other reason than we had heard about tropical rain forests and pygmies.
My dissertation was published today on ProQuest, the online repository of theses and dissertations. Here is the abstract:
Hiding in Plain Sight: SMEs and Social Enterprises
It was mid-summer 2000 in San Francisco, and Ellen Sugarman looked worried. Sitting in my living room, looking out the window and watching the cold fog blowing down Dolores Street, she was visibly distraught. I thought about making her a cup of tea, and then changed my mind and poured her a glass of white wine. “John,” she said. “I’m going to sell my company.”