Making Peace with the Earth

In the foreword of her new book The Living Earth Dr. Vandana Shiva warns that now, when humanity have come to terms with the huge powers we have accrued to manipulate nature, we face a choice of enormous importance. We must choose, claims Shiva, between a destructive anthropocene, where our polluting and destroying ways are continued, or a creative anthropocene, where responsibility and humility towards nature is key. Tvergastein Journal is proud to present an excerpt. 

Illustration: Heida Mobeck.

Illustration: Heida Mobeck.

From a Destructive Anthropocene, to a Creative Anthropocene Guided by the Living Earth

The Economist special Issue on the “The World in 2012” ends with an obituary for The Earth. The earth is not about to die. What is dying is an outmoded paradigm and world view that has created multiple crises, beginning with the ecological crisis. The Mayan Prophecy, to which it refers, is not about the end of the Earth, but our age of ecological destruction.

By working on models of human progress based on the false assumption that we are separate from the earth and the earth is dead inert matter, humanity has pushed species to extinction, destabilized the climate, destroyed water, and polluted the rivers and oceans. The illusion that we are separate from the Earth is eco-apartheid. Beginning with separation from the Earth, we create separation within the human community. Finally, we separate ourselves from our own humanity, our being, our purpose on Earth. We start believing the Earth is to be owned and conquered. We accept the brutalisation of our brothers and sisters. And we shrink ourselves into appropriateness or consumers.

Eco-apartheid has ethical consequences. It also has material consequences for our well being. This ecological destruction is threatening to undermine the conditions which have allowed humans to prosper and survive. It is our future that we are closing, not that of the Earth. We have become a destructive force on the planet.

We have moved out of the Holocene Age that began 10,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene. It comes from the Greek words holos (whole) and kainos (new). This age provided the stable climate which gave us the conditions for our culture and material evolution as a human species.

The Anthropocene Age

Scientists are now saying we have entered a new age, the Anthropocene Age, the age in which one species, the human, is becoming the most significant force on the planet. Current climate change and species extinction are driven by human activities and the very large ecological footprint of our species.

Climate catastrophes and extreme climate events are already taking lives – the floods in Thailand in 2011, in Pakistan and Ladakh in 2010, the forest fires in Russia, more frequent and intense cyclones and hurricanes, severe droughts and intense flooding, all are examples of how humans have destabilized the climate system of our self-regulated planet which has given us a stable climate for the past 10,000 years. Humans have pushed 75% agricultural biodiversity to extinction because of industrial farming. Between 3 to 300 species are being pushed to extinction every day.

How the planet and human beings evolve into the future will depend on how we understand the human impact on the planet.

If we continue to understand our role in the old paradigm of capitalist patriarchy based on a mechanistic world view, an industrial, capital centered competitive economy, and a culture of dominance, violence, and war, and ecological and human irresponsibility, we will witness the rapid unfolding of increasing climate catastrophe, species extinction, economic collapse, and human injustice and inequality. This is the destructive Anthropocene of human arrogance and hubris. It is displayed in the attempt of scientists to do geo-engineering, genetic engineering and synthetic biology as technological fixes to the climate crisis, the food crisis and the energy crisis. However, they will aggravate old problems and create new ones.

We have already seen this with genetic engineering which was supposed to increase food production but has failed to increase crop yields. It was supposed to reduce chemical use but has increased use of pesticides and herbicides. It was supposed to control weeds and pests, and it has instead created super weeds and super pests.

Waging War on the Planet

We are in the midst of an epic contest – the contest between the rights of Mother Earth, and rights of corporations and militarized states using obsolete world views and paradigms to accelerate the war against the planet and people.

This contest is between the laws of Gaia, and the laws of the market and warfare. It is a contest between wars against Planet Earth and peace with Earth.

There are planetary wars taking place with geo-engineering – creating artificial volcanoes, fertilizing the oceans with iron filings, putting reflectors in the sky to stop the sun from shining on the Earth, as if the sun was the problem, not man’s violence against the earth, and the arrogant ignorance in dealing with it.

In 1997, Edward Teller co-authored a white paper “Prospects for Physics-based modulation of global change” where he advocated the large scale introduction of metal particulates into the upper atmosphere to apply an effective “sunscreen.”

The Pentagon is looking to breed immortal synthetic organisms with the goal of eliminating “the randomness of natural evolutionary advancement.” What is being done with the climate is being done with the evolutionary code of the universe, with total indifference for the consequences.

Synthetic biology is an industry that creates “designer organisms to act as living factories.” “With synthetic biology, hopes are that by building biological systems from the ground up, they can create biological systems that will function like computers or factories.” The goal is to make biology easier to engineer using “bio bricks”. “Use of standardized parts, following a formalized design process, the engineer’s approach to biology, makes biology an engineering discipline, requiring the reduction of biological complexity. An engineering approach to biology based on the principles of standardization, decompiling and abstraction and a heavy reliance on information technologies.”

However, “engineering” plants and ecosystems has undesired and unpredictable ecological impacts. For example, the green revolution destroyed biodiversity, water resources, soil fertility, and even the atmosphere with 40% GHG’s coming from industrialized, globalised agriculture.

The Third Green Revolution

The second green revolution has led to emergence of super pests and super weeds, and increased use of herbicides and pesticides.

Synthetic biology as the third Green Revolution will appropriate the biomass of the poor, even while selling “artificial life.” There is an intense scramble for the earth’s resources and ownership of nature. Big oil, big pharma, big food, big seed companies are joining hands to appropriate biodiversity and biomass – the living carbon – to extend the age of fossil fuel and dead carbon. Corporations view the 75% biomass used by nature and local communities as “wasted.” They would like to appropriate the living wealth of the planet for making biofuels, chemicals, plastics. This will dispossess the poor of the very sources of their lives and livelihoods. The instruments for the new dispossession are technological tools of genetic engineering and synthetic biology and intellectual property rights.

Turning the living wealth of the planet into the property of corporations through patents is a recipe for deepening the poverty and ecological crisis. Biodiversity is our living commons – the basis of life and commons. We are part of nature, not her masters and owners. Intellectual Property Rights on life forms, living resources and living processes is an ethical, ecological and economic perversion. We need to recognize rights of Mother Earth and therefore the intrinsic value of all her species and living processes.

The Ecological Shift

The destructive Anthropocene is not the only future. We can have a shift in paradigm. A change in consciousness is already taking place the across the world. We can look at the destructive impact our species has had on the planets biodiversity, ecosystems and climate systems and make a shift.

The ecological shift involves not seeing ourselves as outside the ecological web of life, as masters, conquerors and owners of the Earth’s resources. It means seeing ourselves as members of the earth family, with responsibility to care for other species and life on earth in all its diversity, from the tiniest microbe to the largest mammal. It creates the imperative to live, produce and consume within ecological limits and within our share of ecological space, without encroaching on the rights of other species and other people.

It is a shift that recognizes that science has already made a paradigm shift from separation to non-separability and interconnectedness, from the mechanistic and reductionist to the relational and holistic.

At the economic level it involves going beyond the artificial and even false categories of perpetual economic growth, so called free trade, consumerism and competitiveness. It means shifting to a focus on planetary and human well being, to living economies, to living well, not having more, to valuing cooperation rather than competitiveness. These are the shifts being made by indigenous communities, peasants, women and young people in the new movements like the Indignants in Europe and the Occupy Wall Street in the U.S.

This involves working as co-creators and co-producers with the earth. This demands using our intelligence to conserve and heal, not conquer and wound. This is the creative and constructive Anthropocene of Earth Democracy, based on ecological humility in place of arrogance, and ecological responsibility in place of careless and blind exercise of power, control and violence. For humans to protect life on earth and their own future we need to become deeply conscious of the Rights of Mother Earth, our duties towards her, our compassion for all her beings. Our world has been structured by capitalist patriarchy around fictions and abstractions like “capital,” “corporations,” “growth” which have allowed the unleashing of the negative forces of the destructive Anthropocene. We need to get grounded again – in the earth, her diversity, her living processes and now unleash the positive forces of a creative Anthropocene.

Towards Earth Democracy

We will either make peace with the earth or face extinction as humans even while we push millions of other species to extinction. Continuing the war against the earth is not an intelligent option.

Recognizing the Rights of the Earth is not just an imperative for the future of our species. It is also an imperative of social justice. Ancient cultures tested the impacts of their actions on the basis of the Seventh Generation. Future generations have rights and those rights flow from a bountiful earth.

We have been chasing the mirage of limitless economic growth on a planet with ecological limits, which is a contradiction in itself. But this growth is based on the concentration of the Earth’s resources in a few hands, depriving and excluding billions from their rightful share, leaving them in hunger and poverty. Recognizing the rights of the Earth is the basis of also respecting human rights.

The war against the Earth also becomes a war against people. When we respect the Earth, we share her abundance. As Gandhi said: “The Earth has enough for everyone’s needs, but not for a few people’s greed.”

We need to move from eco-apartheid to Earth Democracy. We need to celebrate the Living Earth and our own creative potential as members of the Earth Community.•

This text is the foreword to Dr. Shivas upcoming book The Living Earth. It also appeared in Issue 1 of Tvergastein, Interdisciplinary Journal of the Environment.

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