Gaia is a Living System. What is true about systems is that they are wholes, composed of parts. We are not used to seeing wholes, we see only parts. That is not only confusing, but it is at the root of our deep misunderstanding. The parts are intrinsic to the whole – they can’t be removed or replaced; all of the parts are needed! Do you understand how very profound those statements are? Every part of Gaia is needed.
Our bodies are the whole we are most familiar with. Every part is needed! It is true that we can lose limbs and still function, but life will be much harder and more difficult. If we lose toes, then balance is affected. If we lose fingers, then our dexterity becomes difficult. Nature does not tolerate waste of any kind. New research suggests that the appendix is designed to protect good bacteria in the gut. That way, when the gut is affected by a bout of diarrhea or other illness that cleans out the intestines, the good bacteria in the appendix can repopulate the digestive system and keep you healthy. Nothing is useless, we just aren’t always smart enough to understand why something is important. All parts of any whole are necessary but, not all the time.
Gaia is no different from our bodies. ALL of her ‘parts’ are necessary – every life form on this planet is a needed and necessary ‘part’ of the whole that Gaia is. Let me say this again. Every life form on Gaia is a necessary part of the whole, of life. The parts fit, only because they are different, and I’ll say more about that later – that fact, alone, is glorious! Like the appendix, no part is superfluous, no part is extraneous, no part is not needed – that includes humans. For life to continue, it is imperative to maintain the integrity of the whole.
Humans are very good at interrupting that integrity. We destroy forests with an incredible nonchalance. Denuding vast areas without a thought. We replant trees and call it good, but lots of trees do not a forest make. We pave over grass. We kill soil in SO many ways. Think about that – we kill the life beneath our feet, we don’t even know that it’s there. We create huge dead zones where polluted rives run into the sea as the algae, encouraged by run off nitrogen and phosphorous, remove all the oxygen in the water. We encase rivers in concrete, and even change their course, and dam their waters. We poison enormous stretches of land, killing all life forms we don’t want, and assume it doesn’t matter. Yes, nature can limp along without her fingers and toes, but there are always consequences.
Our latest blasphemy is to propose sucking up all life on the floor of the ocean to acquire nickel and cobalt for electric engines. Impossible Mining, a B Corp run by a woman, Renee Grogan, proposes to use robots to pick up the nodules laying on the ground instead of killing everything. See the wonderful article about this in Time, April 13, 2022. There are even trees that ‘bleed’ metal. Researchers have been studying a specialized group, known as hyperaccumulators, that have evolved to take up the normally toxic metals into their stems, leaves and even seeds. We need to slow down and see what our beautiful planet offers.
A big part of maintaining the integrity of the whole is scale. We move too fast and there are too many of us, so we overshoot what the planet offers. The World Wildlife Fund says, “Humanity’s annual demand on the natural world has exceeded what the Earth can renew in a year since the 1970s. This “ecological overshoot” has continued to grow over the years, reaching a 50 per cent deficit in 2008. This means that it takes 1.5 years for the Earth to regenerate the renewable resources that people use, and absorb the CO2 waste they produce, in that same year.
How can this be possible when there is only one Earth? Just as it is possible to withdraw money from a bank account faster than to wait for the interest this money generates, renewable resources can be harvested faster than they can be re-grown. But just like overdrawing from a bank account, eventually the resource will be depleted.
At present, people are often able to shift their sourcing when this happens; however at current consumption rates, these sources will eventually run out of resources too – and some ecosystems will collapse even before the resource is completely gone.
The consequences of excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are also already being seen, like climate change and ocean acidification. These place additional stresses on biodiversity and ecosystems.”
The Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) uses this graphic to clarify what both overshoot and undershoot mean and how they impact our life on this planet:
I find it fascinating that we are overusing Earth’s resources, and at the same time, under serving our human populations. Maybe our ‘human centric’ way of being is just greed?
The integrity that is invisible and that we ignore all the time, is the pace of cycles. Our planet offers an infinity variety of options, possibilities, and resources IF we use things up at the same rate they are created. WE overdraw our back account regularly, doing so is out of integrity!
WE are part of the whole. We are special only in the same way everything else is special. We are unique and therefore offer unique capabilities in service to life, but we must move from a human centric approach, drop our greed, and move to a life centric way of being. We need to become part of the whole again.
The bible got it all wrong. Go forth and multiply, was a misunderstanding of the Prime Directive. That misunderstanding has made a mess out of our world. It has justified all the harm we have done. More of us is NOT the way to ensure life. High birthrates simply add more stress to the planet. More is not better.
What happened? Nature is not so much concerned with each individual life form, she is concerned about the health of the whole, about how all the various parts fit in ways that ensure that the whole remains healthy and viable. Nature, our planet, wants to make sure that life continues, and she needs all the various parts of her (including us) to help make that happen. There’s the rub. We stopped cooperating. We stopped caring about the whole. We stopped paying attention to the impact of our actions on others. We stopped playing with life and began rationalizing ways that dampened it down. We became human centered, instead of life centered.
James Lovelock makes such a fantastic case for why our planet is special. The ability to regulate our atmosphere is unique among all of the terrestrial objects we know about. Here, only here, does life exist. Only here is there an agreement to keep life going and here everyone is involved, everyone except us. We stopped playing the game a long time ago.
When there were just a few of us, it didn’t matter so much, but now that there are almost 9 billion of us AND we have learned to take with such expertise, it matters a great deal. Yes, we are a wasteful species and our waste products are suffocating life and burying it in plastic, but we are also a prideful species, actively engaged in getting rid of anything we deem as un-useful – to us.
By not understanding the fierce interrelatedness of all living things, by not understanding the mutual support each offers to the processes that make life work on this planet, we have been actively dismantling that life giving structure. Now, Earth has a decision to make, she can die, or she can remove the creatures that are causing the problem. She’s maintained a fairly narrow, and quite pleasant, range of temperature for millions of years. This range has allowed many, many, different forms of life to thrive. Now, as she heats up, new life forms will be brought forth and many old life forms will disappear. We may be one of those.
Many of us have already lowered our body temperatures a degree in an attempt to manage the heat. Will that be enough? What about all the other life forms we know we depend upon, cattle, chickens, corn, wheat, water, soil? Will they adapt fast enough? The loss of ice, millions of years in the making, interrupts the flow of both air and water, flows that have kept some parts cool and some parts warm. This is a whole new ball game that will require a whole new range of adaptive techniques. Our normal pattern of resistance – will it be sufficient; will it be enough?
We have been a bit short-sighted, thinking only of humans and what we think is best for us. Instead of the Prime Directive – ensure that all life thrives, ensure that LIFE thrives, we have been focused on ensuring that human life thrives, and we are beginning to see that we do not live alone. We’ve had a good run resisting the planet, now is the time to shift gears and begin to use our knowledge and expertise to work with the planet. Can we, do it?
There’s nothing like the human ego. Our belief in our specialness has given us things we have dreamed of for centuries, but at an exceptional cost. How attached are we to our egos? How attached are we to our specialness? In every process of maturation, there comes a time when the needs and desires of the individual must be reorganized in ways that acknowledge and contribute to the greater whole. We have been able to avoid that for quite a while, but no longer.
We are hard-wired to connect and cooperate. It is those skills that have made us so successful. Can we bring them out, dust them off, and shift gears? Can we expand our capabilities to include the whole planet, not just our species? Can we use the joy of connection, the bliss of right action as motivators to shift our actions to supporting life? Can we reimagine soil as life giving and not just dirt? Can we learn to clean up after ourselves by focusing on zero waste? Can we follow the termites and build in air-conditioning that doesn’t use energy? It’s all there, it is only our egos that are standing in the way.
The Prime Directive is contained in the first two values of the Resilient Values Set;™ All actions create the conditions that support life, and focus on maintaining the integrity of the whole. Simple? It is simply a shift in focus from us to LIFE. We can do this!
Kathryn Alexander, MA
Regenerative approaches require a deep integration with nature. Collaboration requires different structures and ways of working together. If we want different results we have to do things differently!