By Dr. Glen Barry, EcoInternet
Earth Meanders come from Earth's Newsdesk
If Gaia, the Earth System, is alive, then it stands to reason she can die. And the fact Gaia has not yet succumbed in past mass extinctions is no indication, and certainly no guarantee, that when hit simultaneously, in a geological flash of time — with climate change, deforestation, toxics, soil loss, scarce freshwater, dead oceans and more; caused primarily by over-population and inequitable consumption — that Gaia will not pass from being.
The degree to which humanity has changed Gaia's balance ecologically is clearly known by global change and ecological science, yet it is not well appreciated by most of the masses and ruling elite. Until it is, humanity and our sister species are careening towards global ecosystem collapse, where one day soon we will wake up on a toxic, largely lifeless planet and it will be too late.
If all entreaties to power to pursue necessary policies to avoid global ecosystem collapse continue to be rebuffed, there is a long tradition of protest culminating in revolution to draw upon as inspiration for a Stewardship Revolution. We need to steel ourselves to the possibility that environmentalism in the face of continued neglect by the ruling elite has become a battle for shared survival of our and all being.
Can the Earth System Collapse into a Lifeless and Uninhabitable Biosphere?
It is now generally accepted that the Earth System — the sum total of natural life-giving ecosystems into the one biosphere, sometimes referred to as Gaia — can in some important aspects be viewed as alive. This includes the ability as a super-organism to self-regulate its internal environment. Thus nutrients and energy flow between seas and forests, from water to air, and back again, in the (until now) seemingly endless rhythms of natural life. This habitat is our and all life's home.
When you study, research and observe these issues for decades, as I have, it becomes apparent that like any biological system, the Earth can die, and is already needlessly and prematurely dying now. I will not review the voluminous ecological science that indicates that uniformly global ecosystems are in decline and have already started to collapse. Google searches on “ocean dead zones”, “water scarcity”, “ecosystem collapse” to say nothing of “deforestation extinction” and “abrupt climate change”, make this abundantly clear. I have spent a lifetime building environmental search and news tracking portals including http://www.ecoearth.info/ that catalog and make accessible what is known about Gaia's looming demise.
Or you can walk outside and note how many native plants you see, what percentage of your landscape is intact ecosystem, what is required to make your water drinkable, and note changing seasonality. And if you are truly interested in your and your children's survival you may even read! Start with “Limits to Growth”, move towards the “Millennium Ecosystem Assessment”, and continue by getting a degree in ecology and/or global change. Most of what is necessary to diagnose Gaia's condition and propose sufficient, transformative ecological policies is already known.
I am frequently derided for saying the Earth is dying, as doing so will only cause despair. My response is that ecological truth exists, and it will be impossible to solve merging global eco-crises without an accurate assessment of the severity of the matter. Those that resist this ecological knowledge do so out of dogmatic ideologies, of which they may not even be aware. They are cut off from the web of life and unaware of the essentially ecological nature of being.
It is particularly troubling that so many people find comfort in the far from certain notion that “Earth will survive” no matter what after humanity's own demise. Given evolution is not guided by purpose, there is no such guarantee. Any one of the past five mass extinctions could have ended with a loss of complex or even all life. Because life has survived mass extinction to evolve again into ever greater diversity and complexity does not mean it necessarily will do so.
This is particularly so when, as now, not only are species becoming extinct, but the biogeochemical nature of Earth's environment is fundamentally shifting and may move outside the bounds of what is habitable. Gaia is now being bombarded by major biological and ecological change, in a never before seen barrage in all manners of ecological decline, and at an unheard of rate of change.
Both lands and seas have been, and continue to be, scoured of their unique life. The current atmospheric composition is historically unprecedented, threatening long-established climatic patterns. Gaia's lifeblood, water, is treated as a bottomless sewer. Ancient soils are eroding, countless species passing, remaining ecosystems are accumulating dangerous nitrogen; and all this is occurring within a toxic soup of untested chemicals that may have unknown deadly synergies.
Most of these profound biogeochemical changes have occurred in a mere 300 years. Today's Earth system is struggling under the pressure of 7 billion super-predators and their billions of livestock, which have and continue to grow at a super exponential rate. Under the dominant growth paradigm, each of these unique individuals want and expect ever more consumption, procreation and money/power; which can only come at the expense of more ecosystem loss. At some point, like a shirt having pieces cut from it, this will prove to be too much, and the fabric of being will fall apart.
Something has to break under such a scenario, and unfortunately it is global ecosystems which are required to make Earth habitable. Systems theory shows definitively that exponentially growing systems in positive feedback eventually tear themselves apart and collapse. Technology extends but does not eliminate limits to growth. Given widespread dismantling of the ecosystems that have made Earth livable for eons, who is to say that Earth dying is not a distinct possibility?
As a Conservation Biologist, I could spend my life writing scientific papers to illustrate these points, typing as Earth burns, knowledge that already exists, and will not be much read. Alternatively, I could join with other scientists in a controlled experiment on our one shared biosphere — essentially what is proposed by geo-engineering solutions to climate change — and see if dismantling ecosystems one by one and haphazardly eventually leads to destruction of the biosphere.
Or as a Political Ecologist, I can trust a lifetime of ecological learning and intuition, and the findings of thousands of eminently more qualified scientists, and work together with others that have been similarly ecologically enlightened to promote the sufficient social change and personal transformation necessary to reverse ecological decline. I have chosen the latter. Please join us.
Can We Discuss Escalating Earth Protest and If Necessary a Stewardship Revolution?
I strongly believe we need to steel ourselves to the possibility that Earth has been so buffeted by humans that it is dying. And if this is the case, then we are in a fight for our lives and need to act with the requisite courage and resolve to ensure Earth and all creatures' existence continue. Once having realized a state of ecological awareness, together we can will a just, equitable and sustainable Earth and society into being.
My scientific prediction that Earth is dying could be wrong. Regardless, clearly there is going to be mass starvation, chronic water shortages and major flooded cities as a result of climate change and attendant ecological crises. This is established fact that is indeed already happening. The death of hundreds of millions if not billions in the coming century is bad enough and should warrant some serious policy changes. Whether Gaia and humanity actually die, or just wish they had; clearly profound changes in birth rates, equitable consumption and use of natural resources — a Stewardship Revolution — is required if Gaia is to be stabilized and restored, and descent into an apocalyptic dystopia avoided.
Americans, the French and much of the world have a long and illustrious history of revolutionary thought and action that is celebrated to this day. Revolutionary wars were fought to establish liberty and freedom, that however incomplete, nonetheless largely banished monarchial tyranny (excepting the last U.S. President). There are periods in history where questions of liberty and justice required conflict for what was just and true, and sometimes just what was necessary to survive.
Both Gandhi and King brought a powerful new tactic of non-violent struggle to social movements. And indeed we should use these tactics, but not necessarily exclusively as these are different times with different imperatives and constraints. The extent of the necessary social change, intransigence of ruling elite, and severe time constraints whereby past certain tipping points it is too late, are unprecedented.
What I am proposing is a serious dialogue to consider whether escalating protest actions may be required to transform and, if necessary, overthrow the global political and economic systems that are liquidating life-giving ecosystems for a throw-away consumer society for some. It is possible to envision a radicalized ecological sustainability movement that would move through an escalating series of protest actions — from civil disobedience, through sabotage, and if need be violent acts of revolution — until necessary changes for our shared survival like ending coal, tar sands and old forest logging occur.
The seeds for such a movement are already there as increasingly creative, and at times militant, protest is occurring globally, for example against coal and whaling. This would need to be grown as a movement as rapidly as possible, helping distraught and soulless consumers to reconnect with Earth. This is where the non-violent mass sit-ins, occupation of buildings, obstruction of loggers, whalers and miners would occur. We all hope mass mobilization of global citizens solves the problems.
Yet, global ecological crises are so acute, and so immediate, that it could be made known that if initial peaceful protest fails to immediately achieve ecologically sufficient action, that some in the protest movement would escalate to sabotaging equipment and property used to dismantle ecosystems. It would seem evident that surgical strikes against property of known people and organizations profiting from and causing a dying Earth would be far preferable to any sort of indiscriminate terrorism, which should be avoided.
Clearly global ecological sustainability rises to the level of inalienable rights and duties that must be defended at all costs. No ecology, and there is no economy, love, art, sport or anything else. An Earth insurgency with the globe as its battlefield may become necessary, and should be planned for along with other tactics. Industrial society is far more fragile than it appears. The history of past and ongoing insurgencies shows that a couple tens of thousands of dedicated Earth insurgents — after due warning that continued governmental failure would be met with resistance — could certainly find a plethora of soft targets in the industrial growth machine.
A leaderless movement of autonomous cells committed to defending their bioregion would be virtually impossible to stop, could significantly raise the price of ecocide, and just may pull the Earth eating growth machine down. What a life to be had: by day agrarian, relocalized democracy; and at night ruthlessly destroying the destroyers. This could not be merely tokenism; it would be about ending the disease of tar sands, coal, old forest logging and elite rule and inequity based upon plundering of natural ecosystems.
As a last ditch effort to save Gaia and ourselves, a Stewardship Revolution would need to be swift, lethal, relentless and uncompromising to succeed. As with any insurgency, people could choose to partake to the level with which they feel comfortable. If conditions continue to worsen ecologically and the Earth slaying elite remain intransigent, some may choose to carry out targeted, well-conceived violent actions. Others may limit themselves to providing support and comfort for those carrying out the fight, as well as helping those displaced from industrial society to reconnect to the land.
I do not condone nor do I mean to imminently incite such actions, but the point is the Earth is dying, and there is no sufficient plan to stop the ecocide. The idea of a Stewardship Revolution deserves at least to be considered. The time may be now to issue a warning to governments that failure to aggressively and ambitiously act on climate change at Copenhagen at the end of 2009 will mean radicalization of resistance to the status quo Earth destroying economic and political systems.
Earth and humanity, both of which I love very much, are dying; and all free thinking men and women of good faith should be willing to consider all alternatives necessary to save our and posterity's being. And thank Gaia for previous revolutions, which in my country give me the freedom to academically think and write these thoughts. Discussing requirements for actions to achieve global ecological sustainability is not a thought crime. It may be the only way home to Gaia.
Gaia willing, Dr. Barry will be further elaborating on these ideas in the forthcoming book “New Earth Rising” coming soon.
By Dr. Glen Barry, EcoInternet