Gaia – the living global ecological system – is collapsing and dying as human industrial growth overruns natural ecosystems and climate. Yet the biosphere can regenerate, as it has done before, given the time and space, free from human burning and cutting. As the twin emergencies of climate and ecosystem loss threaten the end of being, I join in calls for a peaceful “Extinction Rebellion” whereby people together do what they can, do what they must, for Earth and our shared habitat. Let’s start by regenerating nature in order to sustain creation.
“Imagine all the people living life in peace… You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one, I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.” – John Lennon, Imagine
“Imagine a peaceful rebellion that regrows nature… Let’s return to and tend our planetary garden. We once shared creation with other creatures, let’s do so again. Gaia can regenerate herself if given enough time, space, and love.” – Dr. Glen Barry
One of many amazing things about nature is it can grow back. 10,000 short years ago much of the Northern hemisphere was covered by a mile of glacial ice, scouring the land of all-natural vegetation. Before that, cataclysmic asteroid strikes virtually annihilated biological life, in moments of immense planetary scale death. In each case, fragmented life re-emerged – renewed and diversified – in relatively short order. Critically, enough natural remnants remained, and were able to recover.
For eons biological life of all sorts including natural terrestrial ecosystems have shown an innate, indomitable will to sustain itself. This is not necessarily the case. Gaia, the planetary organism that is the sum of all ecosystems, can – like all life – collapse and die. Yet creation has proven to be remarkably resilient. When adequate remnant nature remains, and once pressure is taken off quickly and long enough, life is able to regenerate; genes evolve, wildlife has babies, and natural ecosystems repopulate denuded land and sea.
Gaia is a living organism. And once again, all her organic and naturally evolved life is in peril. This time at the hands of humanity.
It is difficult to fathom the degree to which natural ecosystems and climate have been disrupted by human industrial growth, and the potential for spiraling collapse should natural ecosystems and climate not be allowed to recover. The biosphere is already bifurcating between extremes (a sure sign of impending collapse) – demonstrated by trends as diverse as climate weirding, rising authoritarianism, collapsing ecosystems, mass migration, and a state of perma-war – before settling into a new normal of a depauperate and perhaps lifeless planet.
Now living in New York City and working in financial IT, much of my formative years unfolded in close proximity to nature. Some of my most pleasant memories as a child include fishing for bass from a canoe with my parents, the smell of the Earth waking in a tent, and partaking in the symbiotic ecological cycles of animal husbandry and gardening as my family homesteaded. Over the past two decades I have restored a natural forest ecosystem on a few acres of denuded farm fields – a gratifying yet grueling task.
From an early age I sensed Earth was alive and gravely threatened, intuitions fortified by over a decade of graduate studies in ecology, and a lifetime of rainforest and climate activism. It has been 5 years since I published Terrestrial Ecosystem Loss and Biosphere Collapse, ground-breaking peer-reviewed science identifying a tenth planetary boundary. There I hypothesized that 66% of Earth’s land must be covered with natural and agro-ecological ecosystems to sustain the biosphere; and foresaw the need for a revolutionary response to ecosystem and climate emergencies, now being realized with global climate strikes and extinction rebellions.
Given such a massive and unprecedented global ecological emergency, surely an “Extinction Rebellion” is long overdue.
Imagine a peaceful rebellion that regrows nature.
The place for sufficient climate and ecosystem solutions to start is to let Earth rest and recover. And most importantly, to allow and assist natural ecosystems to regrow. We must once again put our faith in seeds, and the ability of nature to sustain all life.
Massive nurseries of natives plants from local genetic stock, nearby genotypes adapted to warmer conditions, and species suitable for forest gardens will be required to provide seed stock to re-establish intact and functioning ecosystems over two-thirds of the Earth’s surface. Enormous deforested and ecologically diminished areas exist, particularly in the tropics, that must be quickly reforested. Replenishment planting surrounding and reconnecting natural remnants over vast areas will yield ecosystem services and store carbon, as well as provide massive employment. Science knows much regarding how to harness ecosystems’ natural restorative processes, carefully targeting for augmentation the re-establishment of dominant and keystone species, as remnant ecosystems are aided to expand and reconnect.
There exists enormous potential to carry out landscape scale ecological restoration activities which assist natural remnants to age, expand, and reconnect. Protecting and restoring old-growth forests, other natural ecosystems, and all kindred species are a huge part of the climate change and ecosystem solutions, and a prerequisite to solve a whole host of other ecological issues including biodiversity, soil, wildlife, and water crises.
We are speaking of restoring natural ecosystems, going well beyond tree farms. Such rewilding focuses upon assisting natural ecosystems to recover their full ecological integrity. This is demonstrated by their possessing the full range of natural species, composition, structure, and function. Diverse agro-ecological systems that emphasize organic perma-culture will play a vital role, when interspersed with intact and regenerating forests, in order to once again ensure ecosystems provide the ecological context within which humans and other species can live forever.
Of course, successfully regenerating ecosystems on a global scale presupposes that the damage to existing intact ecosystems ends. Much of the foundation-fed climate and environment movements have myopically focused upon technical solutions to climate change, failing to understand the role intact and regenerating ecosystems play in sustaining Gaia. Some go so far as continuing to sell logging primary forests as being desirable and even sustainable. We must go far beyond technophile solutions and end natural ecosystem loss and harness the Earth system’s amazing ability to regenerate herself.
This is what makes the Extinction Rebellion movement so exciting – it correctly diagnoses the threat to the biosphere, humanity, and kindred species as emanating from both climate change AND biodiversity/ecosystem loss.
Ecology is the answer.
There is no way humanity emerges intact from the climate and ecosystem emergencies and achieves global ecological sustainability unless we grow justice, peace, and equity as well. This will require powering down the industrial growth economy, demobilizing the military-industrial complex, and coming together as one human family to stop those destroying nature. Solutions include not only ending burning of fossil fuels and destruction of natural ecosystems. We must also make peace and demilitarize, promote greater fairness and justice, and limit human numbers and inequitable over-consumption.
Let’s return to and tend our planetary garden. We once shared creation with other creatures, let’s do so again. Gaia can regenerate herself if given enough time, space, and love.