04 Jan The Anthropocene vs. the Ecozoic
What about the long-term vision, not just for ecocities, necessary to any healthy vision of the future, but the longest term vision? For that we have to look to evolution.
Most of you readers of our newsletter have no doubt noticed the banner heading under the name of the newsletter, name first: Ecocities Emerging. Great name – I think Kirstin Miller our Executive Director and Editor of the publication came up with it. The phrase immediately below the newsletter’s name was not casually arrived at. It is: “To support the transition to the Ecozoic Era.” It implies a time when humanity recognizes we are part of the ecological web of life on the planet and implies also that with that awareness and growing knowledge of biology and ecology we will, hopefully someday, learn to live “in balance with nature,” also known as: “Stop trashing the place, damn it!” Give nature a chance as well as peace. But how to accomplish that?
We all know human beings have irreversibly altered the course of evolution starting off with the enormous number of extinctions our ancestors caused. The process began slowly tens of thousands of years ago, inadvertently building up to a relentless wave of destruction by sheer hunting for food and materials for clothing, tools and shelter. Plus, rather more sensitively, objects of art. Around when early humans developed archery and atlatls with their lever arm to accelerate long, thin arrow-like projectiles called “darts” much farther than anyone could throw a spear, the rate of killing off our fellow travelers on planet Earth became seriously extinctionistic, if one might coin a term, as our population began to grow beyond its earlier carrying capacity. Except that when crossing that carrying capacity barrier, we didn’t die back, we sacrificed others.
With the invention of more and more tools we pushed our population and technology limits farther and farther until, as mentioned in one of my earlier articles in these newsletters, today less than 3% of the mammals on Earth by bodily weight remain wild and free. More or less free anyway because they are more like in the protective custody of wilderness sanctuaries with rangers trying to save and preserve what’s left of them from humans in the form of poachers.
But back to our ancestors. Species after species that had survived 20 Ice Ages over the last two million years began thinning out then snuffing out faster and faster, in the last forty thousand years, continent by continent exactly – cause and effect rather obvious – as our ancestors migrated around the world.
For those ancestors though, the pace of change appeared to be so slow that they can hardly be blamed. “It just kind of seemed there were a few more game animals to hunt in grandfather’s times.”
In the just out book Satellites in the High Country – searching for the Wild in the Age of Man by Jason Mark, editor of Earth Island Journal, we are introduced to the idea of the “Shifting Baseline Syndrome.” Mark explores the Anthropocene in some detail and describes another term in some detail, “The term – coined by fisheries scientists charting the ever shrinking size of fish – describes the way in which each generation judges the environment based on the remembered nature of its childhood. The environment you grew up with is what you think of as the ‘normal’ condition of environmental health.”
Some anthropologists with evidence of the biological holocaust, from the point of view of today and with super charged tools including tools to study the past like our ancestors could never have even dreamed of, way beyond shot guns and high powered rifles, have used extreme language, sometimes calling our ancestors of “primitive times” “killing machines” and makers of – that word again – a “holocaust” that has diverted and impoverished the very course of evolution.
Well that did happen but I call it trying to eat and survive. That is, like Charles Darwin pointed out, what all species are trying to do, each and every individual. No problem; that’s part of healthy evolution’s natural process. Native Americans and others around the globe who have more recently joined the modernizing western world of high tech and middleclass conveniences available to, say, the Eskimos who drive snowmobiles, carry rifles and heat their wood, metal and glass homes with oil and the American Indian Movement members who drive to the powwow in pickup trucks wearing cowboy hats, nonetheless identify with their ancient tradition more readily than those among us who have had many centuries of “civilization” between their experience now and that of their ancient ancestors who also participated in the slaughter. Think of the ordinary white American middle class members, the rich and the educated.
No need for our contemporary indigenous people to feel in the slightest guilty and no need for incendiary language against ancestors trying to survive. Their proper answer to those calling their ancestors responsible for diverting evolution toward extinction and biological poverty should have the double rejoinder: 1. “Your ancestors killed off innumerable species just like ours did. Your ancestors were “indigenous” peoples once also just trying to eat, clothe and shelter themselves. White ancestry folks just had a longer time to forget that fact due to the Shifting Baseline Syndrome, and 2. the extinctions caused by all of our ancestors, white, brown, red, black and yellow is nothing compared to what we are all responsible for today when we adopt modern ways expunging 90% of the predator fish of the sea, acidifying the ocean and destroying the coral reefs, cutting down millions of acres of forests, burning enough fossil fuels to heat the atmosphere, change the climate and for God’s sake even to melt Greenland’s vast ice sheet and raise sea level for the whole planet.”
The difference from our ancestors is significant: we know what we are doing. Those that adopt denial as a defense against looking at the evidence and those refusing to put some effort into a serious response are guilty in the court of time.
So the Earth and its biosphere has changed and is changing now faster and faster. As Jason Mark points out, you go up into the remote wilderness, are lost in an enveloping silence that touches you as deeply as anything can… and begin to have a kind of itchy feeling something is out of kilter, and now it is certain: a commercial airliner with 550 people stuffed in, so high you can barely see it, is tracing its presences right over your head. The sound creeps up on you stealthily but its vapor trail is not subtle at all when you look up. It spreads out behind that tiny fleck in the sky (fleck you!) as it slices through what would have been a regal cloud formation beautifully and naturally configured but now surgically cut in two by a hard white vapor trail. Even at night, there go those satellites this way and that, not in the crowded skies but the ever more crowded space itself at the level of orbiting technology and space junk.
Jason Mark talks about all this as just part of the new geologic age we are in accepting the term “Anthropocene” because we humans have created it, have dominated our times, and will continue the destruction of the wild as our population continues to grow and our technologies continue for a long time to subdue what’s left of nature – except for a number of nature preserves, usually called “wilderness areas” that look pretty big when one is in the middle of one but in fact are a tiny percentage of the Earth’s land and water surfaces.
Fair enough to use that term, Anthropocene. But not good enough. Calling our new age, or more properly in the conventions of geologists and paleontologists our new epoch the Anthropocene sounds intelligent but does not recognize its early accidental gestation and does not pardon we who aught to know better by now.
Walter Truitt Anderson, amazing advanced thinker
I first head the term “Anthropocene” around 1984, which would be an interesting omen in itself, the year of the book to make the future look frightening and realistically possible, realistic if not at all happy. And it missed most of the environmental stuff that could make things even less happy. I’m talking of course about “1984” by George Orwell. About then the person alerting me to the term “Anthropocene” was Walt Anderson.
Walt Anderson, who early on championed the term and meaning of the ‘Anthropocene’ Epoch of geological history
I’d met Walt in Venice, California and excuse the slight diversion because it’s interesting. He is a writer way ahead of his time. But first, in those days he was also a practitioner in helping cure people with various emotional and mental problems through psychodrama and other techniques of psychotherapy.
In psychodrama the therapist plays the role of the patient’s problem family member or friend or antagonist in trying to ferret out various problems and solve them. The practitioner of psychodrama has to be extraordinarily sensitive to psychological dynamics and an excellent actor too. Since it was psychodrama there was sometimes an audience and everybody played pretend, which puts the patient at some ease as the character he is playing is agreed upon to be a play character representing something like the patient but not exactly him or her because any interpretation is incomplete. Also, since we all have people in our lives of the opposite sex there is a co-therapist of the opposite sex and therefore Walt had his wife playing along with him.
They were an amazing team. When, say, the patient would offer up a situation in which he or she had a problem with another person, that set up a situation, Walt or his wife would try to speak like and adopt body language of the “problem” other person in relation to the patient. The patient might say, “Oh no, Mom wouldn’t react like that, she would pretend she was happy with me but you’d get that she was hiding her real feelings and would say something like…” Walt and his wife would adjust their understanding and after a few more corrections from the patient playing the part of him or her self, they would begin to sound and look just like the “problem other” in the relationship that was actually a problem relationship with responsibility often on both sides. Thus they would all dig into situations that might have been badly handled in the past, learn a great deal and advance toward some healing for the patient. I was in the small audience a couple times and greatly impressed by the technique performed so well by Walt and his wife. I kept track of his activities in “the healing arts and professions” over the following years.
Perhaps I mention all this to say that Walt digs deeply into the personal with real insight, as he connects in other contexts with healing strategies for problems of the culture as well as the individual: he can help solve problems of the Anthropocene.
He went on to become president at one point of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, but always wove into this work and his writing what humans were doing in their collective activities to the environment as well as what was going on at very deep levels in their relationships as individuals, and, always clearly in the context of evolution and ecology. He also became a friend and was always the first to write about and discuss with me some new advance in technologies and techniques that implied an impact on human consciousness and an on the course of evolution by way of ecological changes, mostly disruptions. He would occasionally invite me to various humanist psychology oriented events including important conferences, and I’d invite him to conferences I had organized plus we’d occasionally see each other socially. More recently, in about the year 2000 he, as then president of the World Academy of Art and Science, nominated me to be a Fellow and lined up the support such that now I am one. Readers of this newsletter may remember my three-issue article on a World Academy of Art and Science conference in Baku, Azerbaijan this last spring. The article’s subject and the name of that conference was “A New Paradigm in Human Development.”
To give you a sense of Walt’s broad and interesting mind, some the titles of a few of his books will lead into some sense of who he was and what he was trying to explore over the years in the human mind and evolution/ecology itself leading into his idea of the Anthropocene: The Next Enlightenment: Integrating East and West in a New Vision of Human Evolution (2003), Reality Isn’t What it Used To Be: Theatrical Politics, Ready-to-Wear Religion, Global Myths, Primitive Chic, and Other Wonders of the Post Modern World 1990, and the one that is most closely related to the Anthropocene: To Govern Evolution – the Further Adventures of the Political Animal, 1987. And early on there was the somewhat less related but a beautiful and deeply perceptive piece of history: A Place of Power: The American Episode in Human Evolution, 1976, which gets human and American personality right, both as individual mind and collective mind in history and in ecology/evolution, somewhat like a scholarly version of Alexis de Tocqueville’s perspectives on America in the early 18th century in his famous and influential Democracy in America published in 1835.
So about 1984 Walt gave me the rundown on the Anthropocene, and though humans were succeeding in making some pretty beautiful cultural contributions to art, science, history and self-knowledge and “advancing” our technologies with both happy and unhappy results, it was failing miserably in terms of its impact on nature and evolution. The application of technologies beyond the limits of our wisdom and lifestyles, beyond an active conscience for consequences was out of control and badly misunderstood if addressed at all.
I was very interested in this idea of the Antropocene because it explored the dynamics of evolution in our times, and because, as Paolo Soleri was the first to observe shortly before I met him in 1965, city structure could either take a hint from evolution and get with ecocity design, which means compact basically three-dimensional built community environments for people on their feet rather than on their tail ends in cars on a vast sprawl of asphalt requiring a vast investment in fossil fuels, consuming vast expanses of land and other vast realms degraded, or they would bring on vast and unpredictable harms – which since his warning has come to pass.
But I felt uneasy that advanced thinkers among us, that some humans representing one species, were choosing to name a whole geological age after themselves and on our behalf, each of our selves as individuals. Even though they (we) had become the keystone species for the whole planet – and I don’t contest that in the slightest – one out of millions of species too, our claim to fame was that we had made our mark in ecological/evolutionary terms through destruction, not through creative deeds except in some cultural enterprises such as art and science and wilderness preservation, seeds of a better future. We may have become impressively innovative but very preponderantly in self-referential ways, that is, regarding only our own species’ positive gifts to the relatively well off among us and regarding our opinions of ourselves. Relative to those other millions of species, not so good.
Today then, long after I heard about the Anthropocene as the New Age of evolution, which is also the New Age of collapsing biodiversity, climate change and degradation of non-renewable resources, I began to understand that we, unlike our ancestors, now are beginning to understand that we are responsible for all that and it is really happening.
The question then is what to do about it. Walt’s specialization was in understanding psychologically what us humans were doing in our evolutionary context and trying to help by revealing his best approximation of the veracity of what is actually going on our planet that cold be fixed, and fixed first of all by advance of our self awareness. But did the idea of the Anthropocene if understood correctly paint a picture toward which we could aspire that sees itself – Homo sapiens – as a member of a community of all species? No. The opening years of the Anthropocene is too relentlessly depressing and as a notion that humans are in the lead of nature instead of dependent on and respectful toward it is not turning up a clear idea of what to do to rejoin normal healthy evolution.
Thomas Berry and what to do about All That
Thomas Berry, who introduced the term and concept of the ‘Ecozoic’ Epoch
I met Thomas Berry in 1975 or 1976 shortly after I came to the San Francisco Bay Area from Venice, California. He was a Catholic priest who describes himself as a cultural historian, ecotheologian, cosmologist and geologian, that is, a scholar of the Earth.
In 1970 he founded the Centre for Religious Research at Riverdale, New York, which was his base ever since, up to shortly before his death in 2009. I always tried, and often succeeded, in meeting up with him when he visited the San Francisco Bay Area and twice – I felt honored – he took the initiative to look me up. I even appear very briefly in two of his books, The Dream of the Earth, 1988 and The Great Work, 1999. I should admit, extremely briefly: in one sentence in each book. He had another idea for the geological age we are beginning, if starting off on the wrong foot. He had ideas of how changing approach could get it right, as right as possible anyway, after causing such damage. That big change would be in stories: from the biblical to the universal for all of us regardless of religion or philosophical perspective, and the universal is the universe. So he called that story, which science has delivered to us with telescopes, microscopes, astronomy, math, physics, chemistry and biology The Universe Story.
His term for the human influenced and transformed geological/ecological age we are entering was the “Ecozoic,” for ecology and life. For a little chronology here, the Pleistocene Epoch was the last before the present Holocene Epoch started with the end of the of the last Ice Age. The Holocene has lasted about 10,000 years from then until now. The Pleistocene was a 1.6 million year geological epoch ending with the last of about twenty ice ages that occurred during the Pleistocene with interglacial periods shorter than the ice ages. It was in the latter Pleistocene and early Holocene that the Homo sapiens eliminated so many mega fauna species, the mammoths, saber tooth tigers, dire wolfs, American lions, horses and camels and so on.
Now the Sixth Extinction, which is what many scientist are now calling the present and accelerating condition of radical change, is well underway with all types of fauna assaulted, not just the mega fauna, plus the plants, and of course not to forget climate change. We have to face it that we live on a different planet now, but the character of out next “age,” or more correctly “epoch,” is dependent on us and thus naming becomes relevant and likely a largely influential maybe even determining factor in the character of that next slice of time as the name may well create the atmosphere and interests in society that cause us and our progeny to do this instead of that, producing a moderately crippled world or one of the worst if not the worst of all “extinction spans” in the planet’s life history, measured mainly by the number of species destroyed. It is too late for the rich ecology of the recent past but not too late to do the best we can.
Naming the epoch after ourselves, considering our record, and despite our many and fascinating creations, along with masses of nonsense and destructivity, doesn’t seem to me as helpful as aspiring to execute a genuine rescue of most of what’s left, entering into a partnership that takes its instructions from nature, our senior partner, as best we can understand her. And as I’ve said, with the knowledge we now possess, far more that our ancestors had, we will be responsible for the degree of the disaster in a way that they never could have been accused of: guilty!
I know, everyone says, “Oh God, why are you so negative? You’ll turn people off.” But that’s only if they cut me off (and they often do). I’m not negative at all, just recognizing we have to recognize what’s really happening. Beyond that I have some ideas of my own along with the best I can gather from others that might be helpful that fit, whether it’s the Antropocene or the Ecozoic, though I much prefer the latter: the age in which we learn the laws of ecology and evolution and decide to use them for guidance from and genuine partnership with nature, just mentioned, not domination of her but her junior partner.
I learned of Thomas’ term only a couple years after Walt introduced me to the “Anthropocene.” Thomas had many ways of saying it, but perhaps most basically he believed that “Nature’s economics is primary, ours is derivative.” This includes the economics of solar energy powering the plants of the planet in all their diversity and many roles, the food chains. His economics contain also ecological services such as pollination of plants by certain animals like bees, moths, flies and hummingbirds, all such biological economics as well as our monetized materialist capitalist/socialist economics.
Thomas spoke endlessly of the “Universe Story,” and wrote a book by that name with Brian Swimme. Its total title was The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era, a Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos. It could be the story to guide us into a healthy future.
One would think joining ranks with the physicists and mathematicians, advocating acquiescence to evolutionary laws and even promoting a different creation story than in scriptures, and one for all humanity no matter what religion, would be a problem for a priest within the Catholic Church and be seen as a direct assault on the story of Adam and Eve. I wondered how he could avoid being defrocked and excommunicated so openly proposing what could be considered a replacement for the Bible’s most primary tale. Maybe it was because he was perhaps the most genuinely kind, friendly, deeply concerned and reasonable person I’d ever met, brilliant in his thinking, poetic and unassailably sincere in conversation. And then, late in 2015 Pope Francis declared the Church had always agreed with the theory of evolution – a surprise to me if from a surprising personage. But perhaps the Church and he could accept evolution because God created it and accept that the Adam and Eve story was allegorical and not to be taken literally but for implied deeper meanings: 100 million years to each day of creation.
In any event, Thomas considered himself a faithful Catholic and continued to the end saying humanity has to see itself as part of and dependent upon nature, and in a reverential way that brings to my mind Albert Schweitzer’s three word summary of his religion/philosophy: “reverence for life.” In giving full reverence to the Earth itself – remember, he considers himself a “geologian” – he bestows some of that reverence and imbues everything with reverential value in perhaps his best known quote: “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” So in the context of evolution and our geological ages, says Thomas, we should acknowledge and honor our immense gift of life on Earth, rather than claiming dominance in the naming our times the Anthropocene after ourselves and not the every living thing “else,” including us, of ecology.
True the Ecozoic has to be for a long time aspirational and far from a plan with expectation of being realized any time soon. But in the long run, the real evolutionary time scale, or maybe in terms of a couple centuries instead of years or decades…? There has to be a way that sees the wonder and respect that now so many seem too distracted to notice while texting.
The sliver of time called the start of the Anthropocene or Ecozoic in bright red pink (Credit: Annals of the Former World by John McPhee, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1981 – 1998)
THE solution – or maybe millions of them?
I’d say there is essentially one solution with infinite variations on the theme: a whole systems approach to learning how to be part of normal, healthy evolution. That amounts to seeing the lessons in the Universe Story and taking them seriously. Of course the Universe Story is not Thomas Berry’s alone. It has been developed by ecologists, geologists, astronomers, theoretical physicists and mathematicians generally know as cosmologists and if including Thomas, ecotheologians and geologians who all call it simply the evolution of the universe.
Calling it a “story” is perhaps a good idea because it adds to the sequence of events attention, focus, thoughtfulness and drama – as if the grand scope of all and everything in its changing could be out dramatized by any particular events within it. Stories are generally thought of as exciting or at least engaging (or we stop reading them and go on to something else) and accessible in human terms. Us humans are here in said universe, so it is ours in that common sense, as it is theirs too, the other life forms’ universe too. And with some attention the Universe Story becomes truly stupendously interesting. “Story” helps turn our eyes to that… subject.
But to be more strategic about it, for all concerned, we need a world rescue effort, which isn’t so all presumptuous as it sounds because there are plenty working on it already such as those working for climate change damage mitigation and slowing the heating of the planet, rescuing particular species, working to designate wilderness areas, promoting cutting back on consumption, pollution, driving cars and on and on. What’s lacking is an overall approach that understands the true proportions of things, prioritizes for the most important and uses the principles we can discover in nature to work like our lives depend on it. If not in our own short term – 2016 and soon – in the longer term certainly for many other whole species and the possibility of decent lives for our grandchildren. Otherwise expect for them lonely lives under multiple bizarre stresses on a life impoverished planet afflicted by mass extinction of our once plentiful and healthy companions. The future without a more unified clear strategy for rescue is also likely to be one of unpredictable and widespread violence as depletion of resources and scarcity is likely to lead to extreme economic and political instability.
Al Gore in his 1992 book Earth in the Balance proposed a “Global Marshall Plan” and Lester Brown wrote a series of books promoting a similar “Plan B.” A single unifying approach, in principle, has a lot going for it, providing that key word just mentioned above: focus. We need clarity, and we need to know what to do and in what sequence.
An approach that both appears to be and is well articulated with a short name has the advantage over dozens of offerings simply by name recognition, more commercially these days called branding. Franklin Roosevelt offered “New Deal.” I’d offer rather more tentatively “World Rescue.” That or another name for unifying several closely related crucial problem/conditions that need high energy commitment and investment now would be a very important step in solving our multiple problems that absolutely must be dealt with. Under such a name we could see the interrelationships of the part of the whole and have a much better grasp of what needs to be done.
I think that if we look to the areas of greatest impact and greatest potential for solving currently intractable really big problems we will find three categories of physical pressure on nature, one particular strategy for dealing specifically with climate change and two that have to do with our mental, psychological and spiritual selves and actions.
I call the strategy “World Rescue” and the intensely important areas of human thought and activity posing problems of apocalyptic dimensions “the Six Big Ones,” the issues we have to deal with immediately – no more procrastination. Addressing them as real emergencies, resolutely and with very large investment of money, effort, love of life and soul is indispensible if we are avoid the disasters crawling over the horizon toward us right now. I have written about these Big Ones several times before in this internet publication, and in my new book (World Rescue – an Economics Built on What We Build) which is available on CD and will be available on paper soon. And so I will elaborate them here in just one paragraph each. They are:
The Six Big Ones
the physical Big Ones – and need for change
- Overpopulation – systematic peaceful reduction of population
- Agriculture/diet nexus – much less chemical, energy and machinery and more knowledge of organic biology needed
- The built environment – transform cities into ecocities, ecotowns and ecovillages
- Natural carbon sequestration – assist nature in its sequestration of carbon in the worlds soils and sediments
the mental, psychological, spiritual Big Ones
- Education emphasizing the above five
A few brief notes on each of these is in order:
Regarding population, it is important to understand that humans need food, clothing and basic shelter for at least minimal requirements and our population is such than now we humans amount to 30.5% of the weight of all mammals on Earth and our food animals and pets represent 66.6%. I’ve used a bar graph to illustrate this enormous base pressure on all living things on the planet, and regarding the animals, and looking at mammals here in particular, I think it is truly shocking that less than 3% in terms of their sheer weight now are wild and free on the third planet from the sun. This measure is something of an ultimate one in showing the way out of balance condition of life on Earth when one out of millions of species dominates in the demands simply by virtue of its protoplasm by weight this proportion of the worlds food and land area to produce it, which leads into…
The extent of the agricultural enterprise in terms of land area consumed is gigantic, and especially if logging for building material and paper is considered an agricultural pursuit: harvesting of the surface of the earth and waters of the sea the photosynthetic product of solar energy captured by life on Earth – for just ourselves. Agriculture in its present dominant form demands vast supplies of energy. And agriculture is now intensely dependent on chemicals and machines as well as energy. Organic farming and various high intensity farming methods like permaculture and biodynamic farming are labor intensive and knowledge intensive at the same time. Good to create jobs! Meat production is very inefficient in terms of invested land and energy for its proportion of food for people and production of fish from fish farms and shrimp harvesting are destroying mangroves and greatly reducing biodiversity in coastal waters while contributing pollution to add to the agricultural chemicals that contaminate waterways and result in dead zones in coastal zones at the mouths of rivers such as the Mississippi. Plus, industrial fishing has radically impoverished the ocean, through “bycatch” damage as well as intend harvest.
The built environment is one of those indispensible Big Ones with ecocities, ecotowns and ecovillages required to minimize cities enormous negative impact due to sprawl, cars, local pollution and large contribution to climate change by way of producing “greenhouse gasses,” especially carbon dioxide. Cities could build soils and restore biodiversity if designed largely for that purpose. They produce organic waste that, if composted back into the soil, could fertilize rather than contaminate, create soil rather than chug along thoughtlessly degrading soil. I’m convinced cities in the ecocity mode of compact pedestrian development with a close and celebrated association with nature could easily run on one fifth the energy and consume one tenth the land covered by sprawl of the average car-oriented city today if replaced over a few decades, transformed according to ecological and biological principles of design.
Natural carbon sequestration amounts to helping nature’s own processes intelligently to help increase its own natural sequestration of carbon in soils and sediments. High leverage simple techniques like simply planting and tending trees to increase soil health and biodiversity, rather than cutting them down excessively is part of the answer. Alan Savory who I’ve written about several times in this newsletter herds his cattle in tight clusters following the model of predators like lions and wolves that prey on wildebeest in Africa today and Bison in North America for millions of years interrupted in recent history. The result is that the animals then fertilize, seed and plow with their hooves the soil for rich biodiversity, to the degree that herds of commercial and natural herbivores can share the same rich environment in a transition that could greatly aid a transition to much larger natural areas – while in consideration of the agricultural enterprise, ease off of meat in a transition toward a long term goal. There are also mangroves, peatlands and various kinds of other wetlands: swamps and marshes that can sequester indefinitely growing deposits of carbon if allowed to stay wet.
With just a small amount of work, for example creating check dams only a few inches high to help keep the sphagnum mosses of peatlands wet and growing can take carbon out of the atmosphere and build up virtually forever.
The first of the two of the mental, psychological, spiritual Big Ones is generosity. We have simply by birth on this planet been delivered life in incredible diversity and fecundity, some would say indescribable beauty. It’s time to give back, to invest in a healthy climate and restored soil fertility, biodiversity, and in supporting best agriculture for low impact on the planet’s systems. It’s time to invest massively in the enterprise of building ecocities, ecotowns and ecovillages in many cases in constellations of a variety of the above, each community self-contained like living organisms in a pattern of ecotropolis design within their local bioregion. These built communities involved would be linked mainly by transit and largely by bicycle. Within the ecocities, ecotowns and ecovillages themselves, pedestrians would reign supreme rather than making way for cars. Around them would be restored natural and agricultural landscapes. Generosity is the opposite of greed and suggest a response to over consumption in frugality and finding enjoyment in ways that don’t involve massive consumption and lifestyles wasteful of resources. Finally generosity demands we pull all efforts into moving away from wars and ultimately ending their massive waste of resources and lives in countless disgusting, horrendous injustices and crimes.
Education, but with intense emphasis on and investment in the above five.
If all this can be seen as a whole system with interrelated processes and effects we can then have a whole systems approach that could be the best possible outcome, something of a genuine world rescue strategy. It could be something like energizing and refining the models provided by Al Gore and Lester Brown, updated and, finally, energized.
An example of the way the pieces fit together: smaller population means the cities could not have to be so large (population), and if rebuilt over the coming decades (in compact ecocity design) they could cover much less land for both reasons – making room for more close in (agriculture) and restoration on natural habitat of minimal human disruption, also close in to the cities and towns providing a clear plan for investment (generosity) better understood. And if configured correctly and outfitted with energy conserving technologies tuned to lower demand in the first place and supplied with energy from renewables like solar and wind, (clarification of what to spend on, again generosity) there would be enormously reduced pressure on the natural world.
And finally, thinking like this might actually make room for vast areas of landscape busily sequestrating carbon faster ultimately than carbon produced by burning fossil fuels and wood. James Hanson, one of the world’s leading and earliest experts on global warming has been one of the very rare people to be so bold as to suggest that various forms of reducing carbon production and increasing carbon sequestration added together might actually begin not only to slow the rate of warming and actually begin cooling back to a more natural planetary temperature. After all, one country actually sequesters more carbon that it emits, which is Bhutan because of its vigorous reforestation work, low population (less than San Francisco’s) and minimum of domination of cars in its few and small cities. This may be changing there as more cars are being introduced. But for now anyway we have a model that suggests, regarding somewhere the conditions for cooling exists, “if it exists it is possible.”
A Big Six World Rescue initiative has the potential to go big and surprisingly effective beyond what Bhutan is accomplishing if it facilitates peoples abilities to see the whole systems pattern and find an effective place for themselves in it. Remember that there are pieces of the answer all over the world, people already engaged in a rescue operation if proportionally small in number, supported by small investment and working without a unifying scheme: a few cities are shrinking both their ecological and their sprawl footprint or at least bolstering their more pedestrian oriented centers. Transit and bicycles are coming on fairly strong. Population growth is slowing due to education for women in many places. Architectural details of ecocities like rooftop gardens and solar passive design are become ever more common. We have a lot to work with. Would education about the whole pattern as expressed in the six emphasized areas of activity – the Big Ones – coalesce in the sort of “program” that Franklin Roosevelt launched in rebuilding much of America during the Great Depression, but writ large? Al Gore was inspired to think like this by the very successful Marshall Plan for rebuilding much of Europe after the Second World War, turning many past adversaries into friends and allies at the same time, then prospering.
It seems to me the times are ripe for a unifying approach like this. What do you think?