05/11/2010 04:21 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Educating for Democracy: Lessons from George Bernard Shaw and Mother Nature

As an admirer of that great amateur philosopher and professional playwright, George Bernard Shaw--author of "Pygmalion" which is better known to American audiences as the musical, "My Fair Lady"--I am impressed with his far-sightedness about the fate of the human race as is reflected in today's headlines. Shaw believed in "Creative Evolution," that humankind was still in the process of evolving into a "higher form" of species; that if it didn't destroy itself, it would finally "grow up."

Shaw was also a socialist who believed that common sense would "inevitably" lead people to realize that a more humane and equitable form of wealth distribution than capitalism would result in the peaceful adoption of a form of socialist democracy. His main criticism of capitalism was the "waste" of human and material resources in a system in which growth through the constant increase of consumption was the engine for the increase in material wealth. I believe that the major events--natural and man-made--that have been prominent in the news in the last few months have shown Shaw's wisdom as well as Nature's way of teaching us that if the human race does not "grow up" very soon, we will be another failed experiment of natural selection and go the way of the dinosaur and wooly mammoth.

The most terrifying lesson that Nature has given us is seen in the disastrous earthquakes, first in Haiti, and then lesser ones in China, Chile and elsewhere. The second lesson was the "Icelandic Belch" of a volcano that wreaked havoc for over a week on European air traffic. The third, the unusual weather patterns and resulting flooding in the Southern United States. The fourth, the man-originated but naturally facilitated oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that can spread much further if not soon contained.

Although from different sources, all of these catastrophes are harbingers of a rapidly changing world with little evidence that mankind understands its long-term implications for our future existence. Instead of our thinking in terms of quarterly earnings reports, annual audits or even ten-year projections we have to begin educating our young learners to "think millennially." We must begin to face the fact that our economic system is leading, perhaps by the end of this century, or, at the most, in several hundred years, toward a descent of huankind into barbarism due to lack of natural resources.

Since our economic system depends upon "growth" and feeds on "waste," it is counter-intuitive to simply hope that science and technology can invent another planet to provide us the resources for more growth and waste five hundred or a thousand years from now. Thus, what Mother Nature is teaching us is that we are a fragile species on a planet that has been, up until now, patiently waiting for us to "get real" about how we need to treat it, but is becoming increasingly "pissed off' in our failure to do so.

We need to educate young learners now about alternate life-styles which include ways of entertaining ourselves creatively, moving toward a resource-saving diet, and finding a lower-energy-wasting form of living. We need to develop more "nature-friendly" technologies that are simplified and more intelligible to the average user instead of continuing to develop greater levels of "hi-tech mystification." In order to make these changes possible, we need to develop more serious discussions in schools, public forums, and in corporate and governmental bodies about what will be the more long-term viable economic structures as the free enterprise system withers away.

I would not try to predict the forms of political, social and economic arrangements that the future will bring, although I would hope some form of a more just distribution of economic well-being would be a part of it; perhaps a sophisticated barter system, an agrarian-low-tech-industrial system that was meant for a planet with more limited resources than we assume will continually indefinitely.

If we don't heed the stern warnings of Mother Nature and learn from her, educate ourselves and our young learners to realize the necessity of developing alternate, rewarding, non-consumptive-addictive lifestyles, if we don't stop acting like perpetual teenagers, willfully ignorant of the long-term consequences of a "drill baby drill" mentality, if we don't really "grow up," our descendants will curse us for our greed and stupidity.

We may make compromises with the way in which we treat Nature, but Nature will make no compromises in the way she treats us.