On Ecology and Going Back to the Land

Grow your own food as you restore ecology
Life begets life, making Earth livable. — Dr. Glen Barry

Not much new land is being made, yet land’s health is central to the well-being of human and all life. On land, in a miraculous act of biological emergence, plants and animals have naturally evolved and self-organized to form ecosystems and ultimately the biosphere. Existing land and its ecology have been treated incautiously and with great malice for centuries.
Land ensconced in natural vegetation is the living membrane that encompasses Earth and mediates energy and material flows between air, water, and soil. Naturally evolved terrestrial ecosystems are a majestic miracle, provider of life, and humanity’s habitat home. Over countless eons pulsing lifeforms emerge and radiate creating the panoply of a living Earth.
Life begets life, making Earth livable.
The history of natural land destruction is largely synonymous with human settlements and agriculture. The disease of ecological colonialism radiated from Europe, utterly decimating land and its productive capacity globally. As the myth of a perpetual growth economy has been universally embraced; about 90% of Earth’s original old-growth forests have been pillaged, 50% of top soil has been lost, and about half of global land cover no longer remains in a natural condition.
The global ecological system has percolated from a state of human settlements enmeshed within a sea of life-giving natural ecosystems, to a sea of unnatural human endeavors surrounding islands of nature. Such ecological overshoot is not sustainable and this percolation in terrestrial ecosystem cover is collapsing our one shared biosphere.
Rarely has a species gone so rogue and utterly lost their place within the natural world.
The alleged history of human progress is in fact a litany of ecocidal land abuses. We probe, cut, mine, burn, till, and otherwise desecrate billion year old naturally evolved wonders to make single use consumer junk, to amongst other things, wipe our asses of crap. Soil is sterilized and loses it structure as natural vegetation is cleared and industrial agriculture creates toxic monocultures in their stead. The way industrial humans have treated land is hideous and devoid of ethics.
Alberta’s tar sand sickened land is ablaze
The fires raging across Alberta, Canada, epitomize the violence being waged upon ecology, and show the consequences of sick land. Clear-cutting ancient old-growth boreal forests to mine the sand for filthy tar oil, which when burnt changes atmospheric chemistry, signals the culmination of the death wish inherent in Western thought’s embrace of the myth of endless growth.
This unnatural event and ecocidal tar sands in general provide such clarity that humans have lost sight of their place within ecology, and are utterly failing to sustain natural capital upon which their well-being depends. Yet if we accepted that ecology is the meaning of life, and went back to the land, it is possible this decline could be stopped and reversed.
Gaia’s regenerative capacity is impressive, but not infallible. Throughout history life has recovered regionally post glacier and volcano, and on at least five occasions life has rebounded from mass extinction, even regenerating itself from such calamities as asteroid hits. But never has the Earth had to respond to the rise of over 7 billion super-predators, each determined to out consume the other.
Evolution is neither purposeful nor guaranteed.  Earth’s uninterrupted 3.5 billion year progression of ever greater ecological complexity has never before faced simultaneous abrupt climate change, introduction of novel toxic compounds, and an unprecedented and unrelenting assault upon natural ecosystems of the scale waged by humans.
Humanity’s last great hope is that we go back to the land as we embrace ecology ethics.
Thanks to relatively long lag times, even after vegetation is desecrated, an echo of their ecological splendor lives on within fragmented remnants. Albeit tattered and torn, much remains that if given the opportunity can regenerate and expand.
But we have to move fast, and can’t wait as spiraling ecological simplification of quivering remnants continues apace. There is much that can be done to take pressure off the land and areas adjacent to remnants to harness natural regeneration patterns.  And there exists great potential to go back to land in terms of nurturing and in many cases leaving untouched Gaia’s natural capital.
Firstly all remaining primary vegetation must be protected in global biosphere preservation zones. Old-growth forest logging must end, and logging in naturally regenerating forests be sharply curtailed.  These forests and other natural vegetation, whose ecosystems makes life possible and power the biosphere, also provide the blueprint and genetic materials for the coming Age of Ecological Restoration.
Those greenwashing old-growth forest logging, falsely claiming it is sustainable as they gorge on foundation money, are guilty of great crimes against Earth and her species. They must be stopped.
Simultaneously we must move to ecologically recover degraded lands. Restoration ecology is the science of returning land to its natural condition. In some cases it can be as simple as allowing remnants to expand naturally by ensuring the development pressures are taken off adjacent denuded lands. It other cases it may include carrying out plantings to augment natural restoration, particularly seeking to reestablish the ecologically dominant species that provide the context for all the others. Potential exists for non-toxic polycultures of native tree species to be planted as part of a broader ecosystem restoration effort in order to provide forest products.
As the greatest abuser of land, industrial agriculture must be abandoned. Petroleum intensive means of growing food cannot last long, and we must return to local means of organic food production.  One of the most exciting innovations to re-emerge in land care (as it was long practiced by indigenous peoples) is the rise of permaculture, as boundaries between traditional intensive gardens and forests increasingly blur. Forest gardens intermingled within old-growth forests have tremendous potential for perpetual advancement. Constant effort and attention must be made to rebuild soil, particularly its structure and microbial communities.
Imagine a lush, beautiful, and peaceful world of abundance where wizened ancient nature and small organic gardens again surround and provide for all of humanity and our kindred species. The human species must go back to the land and reconnect fragmented forests and other natural and semi-natural ecosystems to once again provide the ecological matrix that makes Earth habitable.
This essay calls for each of us to go back to the land to the extent our current situation allows. Begin by buying local, organic food; eating less or no meat; and progress to growing as much of your own food as possible. Work to protect and restore natural vegetation both on land to which you may have access and supporting the work of others doing so globally. Buy some land and restore it, or join (or establish) a community garden. Gather, collect, trade, and plant seeds; establishing nurseries of native plant materials for ecological restoration, permaculture, and organic gardening. Proper land care  has tremendous potential to remove and store carbon from the atmosphere, but the need to do so goes far beyond, as more nature has been lost than the biosphere can bear.
Remember to lie down upon the land, looking at the clouds; to feel at one with and savor contact with nature’s plants and animals, and to hug a tree when the urge arises.
One of the primary components of the coming Great Ecological Transition will be going back to the land to reverse ecological fragmentation and once again place humanity within the context of surrounding healthy land. Along with ending fossil fuels, limiting human population and inequity, and military demobilization; going back to the land is a requirement for a peaceful, just, and fair human future on a living Earth that can last forever.


  1. Dr. Barry, I grieve over what is being done to our once-magnificent planet by those who are so filled with greed that they cannot see that they are condemning their own families to a hellish life, much less all the others they see as superfluous. I am now 90-1/2, have four children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, and I am terrified as to what they face in the future. For myself, I presume stress over it will bring my life to a close before very long.
    I agree with you as to the criminals in our midst: corporate agriculture, fossil fuel mining and usage, clear-cutting for the first-mentioned criminal, politicians who are owned by corporate and financial masters, and the 1% who want it all and couldn’t care less about how they get it. Those mentioned have no loyalty to anything but the $$$, not even to the nation in which they live and from which they suck the life-blood.

  2. Dr. Barry, I would love to see you in a position of environmental action for a world government. Recently I learned of an Atlantic Cedar swamp in my area that was destroyed for its peat. These for profit attacks should be considered a crime against nature and the commons. And I love the positive message about permaculture. Wouldn’t it be great to share the wealth and save the planet at the same time. Keep the essays coming.

  3. Hello Glen,
    I hope this finds you and yours doing well. We are doing just fine on our family farm even though we are saddened while witnessing the great unraveling of earths ecosystems. I am frightened and just plain blown away at what is so obvious to me.
    Well my friend you always seem to come through showing the lunacy of the human fallacy of never ending growth and the demolition of the natural ecosystems. We have the choice. Are we human or just animals? The only difference I can find with humans and the natural world is our ability to make things different by choice. It is that choice that makes us human or just another animal.
    I think of you often and give you praise for your relentless accounting of the inconvenient truths.
    As always,

  4. First came the Flood
    First came the flood, then came the fire
    How many guys did the oil sands hire
    Thousands of great parents, never on vacation
    working hard to give their children smoke and inhalation
    Once there was a forest, it had to be removed
    We knew that beneath it lots of tar sand oil grooved
    Glaciers melting, hail stones pelting
    Kook deniers bible-belting
    Poor Alberta, world of hurt-a
    Sexy man in oily shirt-a
    Nascar races kids in braces
    Blackened lungs and ashen faces
    Candidate Trump gave coal a bump
    Hillary cried at her west virginia stump
    Oil nation conflagration
    doomsday train has left the station
    Tar sands paycheck, buy her lace
    You can see the scars from space
    Oil independence boast
    Time to leave, the place is toast
    Kids asthmatic coast to coast
    Native lands begun to roast
    Pity on the oil workers
    Land destructive tree bezerkers
    Wait 100 years from now
    The children telling stories how
    Everything got out of hand
    Daddy had to rape the land
    joey racano

  5. HI Glen. Good and poetic essay. I reckon a refinement would be to paint an alternative vision of the future, rather than the pedantic “we must.” Someone needs to paint that vision, and you could work on it in your essays. Which would work better: A litany of “we must” and “should”, or a well thought out and attractive essay painting of how it would be (beauty, fun, peace, security, enough abundance, ease) if we work together to regenerate and honor the earth, come out of colonial mentality, and do the good thing.

    1. Couldn’t agree more Peter. Much as I really, really admire and appreciate Glen’s passion his writings fill me with so much fear and dread I feel like jumping off the nearest cliff.
      Much more carrot than stick!!

  6. Thanks Glen
    The luxury of suburban gardens can be used to feed their residents, who take time out of the stupid high carbon economy to tend them.

  7. Glen, you are correct. But why is it so hard for man to realise what is happening and DO SOMETHING.
    The reason is I believe clear. There is no clear understanding of WHY SHOULD WE DO SOMETHING? We have no altruistic, common belief.
    We need to have a universal goal something that despite the fact that we have different religions, cultures, different histories, different amounts of income we can all believe in to the extent it drives us to do something about what is happening.
    I believe such a universal belief that could unite the peoples of the world may be the following:
    In the future exists a being that is caring, that will do marvellous things. All of our genes will be part of that wonderful being and that being, more than has a right to exist, MUST EXIST. The wonderful deeds he will do MUST be done.
    The fact that we know of no one else in space that would notice these things and the fact that we know that one day when the sun expands to the orbit of Earth and we may exist no longer (or our religion will come to fruition – if that is our belief) will not dent our resolve that this man of the future will have existed and done unimaginably amazing deeds.
    Crazy idea? Maybe but unless we, all people on the earth, believe this, we will not take the steps necessary to make it happen. (Rather, we will fight over a diminishing world.) Such a belief can be based on what man today is able to do, defeat illnesses, run faster, jump higher, understand more how and why the world works and does not, I feel, conflict with the religions of the world and can go on through the things we would like to do to beyond our current imagination.
    Unless the people of the world can answer the question, “Why should we save the world?” it won’t happen.

  8. Glad someone is making a fuss. Of course, concerned people above all need to tackle their personal fossil carbon use through travel and so on. This is the limiting factor in climate change, at least until there has been time for nuclear, hydro etc. to replace fossil.

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