Thinking Like a Biosphere
It was chocolate that undid me; Peruvian, lusciously dark, organic, Fair Trade, with a whisky-hit of sixty percent pure cacao. It began as a treat on feast-days, then segued into a daily fix. Years earlier, after the dentist warned that sugar-fuelled gum-rot and decay were clear-felling my teeth, I’d given up sugars. As my dental health stabilised, temptation got the better of me, and last week I ran headlong into the consequences – four fillings and $600.
After reflecting wryly on the terminal irresponsibility of sacrificing my own long-term wellbeing to instant gratification, however delicious, I’ve renounced sugar again. And I’ve bolstered that choice, situated it in the bigger picture, by rereading Dereck Jensen’s ‘A Weakened World Cannot Forgive us’.(1) I’d first read this essay a decade ago, and been compelled by his thesis; that while a healthy planet is robust, Earth’s capacity to regenerate and restore was being crippled by human-inflicted damage.
Now, the evidence of anthropogenic harm is irrefutable. Earth’s wellbeing, hence our own, is dependent on the resilience of an intricate web of interlocking ecosystems; healthy freshwater and marine environments; sturdy phosphorus and nitrogen cycles; rampant biodiversity; ozone health; abundant pollination; stable climate; clean air; rich soil. At least four of these key cycles – climate, biodiversity, nitrogen and oceans – may already be irreversibly damaged. That’s roughly equivalent to a diagnosis of heart disease, emphysema, diabetes and asthma. Yet the juggernaut we call ‘progress’ and ‘growth’ rolls blindly on, powered by an economic paradigm whose only yardstick is profit, and constrained neither by morality nor any consideration of human or ecological wellbeing.
If my teeth fall out, I have only myself to blame, and will rightly bear the consequences. But the consequences of our carbon-bingeing, rapaciously consuming, rabidly mobile lifestyles are dumped on the less privileged, on the 8.7 billion species with whom we share our only planet, and on the future which we’re treating like Terra Nullius. We live as if Earth’s resources, and its capacity for absorbing our excrement, were infinite. This fundamentalism, this lie, I call earthism: crimes against lifekind.
“An ecological footprint is the amount of productive land area required to sustain all the inputs and outputs of a human being. Globally, there are about 1.9 hectares of productive area per person, but the average ecological footprint is already 2.3 hectares. While each Bangladeshi only needs 0.5 hectares, the average American requires 9.57 hectares. If everyone consumed at the US rate, it would take the resources of five Earths to support our lifestyles.” (2)
If I could introduce just one law, I would make ecological footprinting mandatory for every human, enterprise, city, state; like seat-belts, or living within one’s budget. Calculating my footprint allows me to realign the ways I eat, work, play, dress, travel, create and waste with ecological truth and justice. If I put in three more energy efficient light-bulbs, can I keep the cats? (3)
How do we give up the planetary equivalent of sugar before we cannibalise our own life-support systems? What might ecozoic economics look like, with all costs accounted for, diversity preserved, waste eliminated, and technology the handmaiden of ecology instead of its pimp? How do we begin to live like a biosphere? The task is impossible, inevitable. Let us begin.
- ‘A Weakened World Cannot Forgive Us: an interview with Kathleen Dean Moore’
by Dereck Jensen. The Sun Magazine. March 2001
- http://www.earthday.net/footprint is one of many web-sites where you can calculate your
ecological footprint online.
Annie March. Published in Australian Options, Spring 2014