On Ecology and Going Back to the Land
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.
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.