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We, the masochists ... 

Below are excerpts from a Nov. 9 speech by Ray Anderson, CEO of Atlanta-based carpet firm Interface Inc., at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo.

"Here we are, part of a system that builds itself up ostensibly for the good of humankind, but at nature's expense. What we do to the web of life, we do to ourselves. Isn't that what you call masochism?

"Paul [Hawken]'s book, The Ecology of Commerce, made the case that we are rapidly degrading the biosphere that supports all of life on Earth. He said that the biggest culprit in this travesty was the extractive, abusive industrial system. He said the only institution on Earth that is large enough, wealthy enough, and influential enough to lead humankind out of the mess is the same one that is doing the most damage: my institution, your institution.

"I don't think I need to convince you about Paul's first point. But it could be instructive to consider just how a living planet -- the rarest and most precious thing in the known universe -- could lose its biosphere, its essential livability. If the day came in the distant future, it would have happened insidiously:

"One silted or polluted stream at a time;

"One dying coral reef at a time;

"One eroded ton of topsoil, one developed wetland at a time;

"One belching smokestack or exhaust pipe at a time;

"One political payoff, resulting in one regulatory rollback, at a time;

"One-tenth of a degree of global warming at a time.

"A sustainable society depends on a vast redesign of the system, triggered by an equally vast mind-shift -- one mind at a time, one technology at a time, one building, one company, one industry at a time -- until the entire system has been transformed into a sustainable system, existing ethically in balance with Earth's natural systems, upon which every living thing utterly depends -- even civilization itself."

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