Ecology is the radical science and the key to the Earth's and your survival

Earth Meanders -- A series of personal essays by Dr. Glen Barry

June 28, 2007

Ecology is the study of how organisms interact with each other and their physical environment. Sounds deceptively simple and non-threatening to the status quo, but I contend that growing ecological knowledge and re-understanding of humanity's place within the web of life is one of the most radical and potentially transformative notions ever. Awareness of humanity's utter dependence upon ecosystems and the biosphere, found in the relatively new discipline of modern ecology, has coincided with a period of unprecedented ecological destruction. Ecology may provide the only truthful answers regarding how to save the Earth and ourselves.

Ecology is a radical science that calls into question the meaning of life and the manner with which we live. We largely know how the Earth works, enough to know that it provides humanity and other creatures with their only known habitat. It is understood that the Earth System, or Gaia, can be conceptualized accurately as a self-regulating organism; and that various sub-systems such as climate and forests are in perilous decline threatening global cycling of energy and nutrients upon which all life depends. It is known with startling detail that humanity is dismantling terrestrial ecosystems, pumping too much waste into the atmosphere, and seriously stressing aquatic and marine environments.

Despite an endless stream of ecological science that indicates the Earth's biosphere is being devoured for a few generations of gluttonous consumption, nary a few are able to shake off the cognitive dissonance of paying the mortgage while fully integrating and assimilating the implications of modern ecocide that fills the news each day. The man-ape with opposable thumbs has come full circle -- from indigenous peoples staring in awe at the stars around a campfire, utterly dependent upon local ecosystems for sustenance; to technologically advanced, yet ecologically challenged societies, grappling to come to terms with our oneness with all of being. Yet there exists a powerful new eco-movement that acknowledges all of the exciting yet frightening implications of these truthful observations and calls for dramatic personal change and social reform to avert global ecological collapse.

The emerging field of political ecology -- of which I am a practitioner -- seeks ecologically based policies and strategies to reconnect the human project with requirements for sustaining land, air, water and oceans. Ecological requirements for Planetary sustainability mean nothing is sacrosanct in the human sphere of existence -- not cars, or cities or the right to bear young -- as the global ecological system is failing under the weight of humanity. New light bulbs and hybrid cars are simply not enough. To survive we need to limit our numbers, consumption and ecological impacts; as we work to protect and restore Gaia.

Perhaps no one is more threatened by this new bright green paradigm than the career environmental bureaucrat seeking technological, managerial approaches to stem the tide of environmental loss. Political ecology concerns itself with ecological requirements for global ecological sustainability, and a radical, transformative political agenda for its achievement; not with inadequate, puny half-measures.

Ecology integrates the sum total of knowledge regarding creation and humanity. There can be no economy, culture or society without a fully functioning Earth. Humans are but one species that have evolved to live here. The ecology of the Earth System explains not only what the Earth and her creatures are and do, but where they are heading. As the discipline that best explains being, it is natural that we turn to ecology to address the myriad of environmental and social concerns facing the planet.

Humans are rapidly becoming an endangered species, one amongst many, in a post-modern era of human decay and ecological collapse. What a depauperate world we are creating. Will we tell our children of long-lost skiing and elephants as we collapse into tribal barbarism and eke out subsistence existences? Or will the future be one of enlightened cooperativeness, voluntary simplicity and global ecological sustainability (which I believe by necessity require just, equitable, and free societies).

There can be no more satisfying life than one filled with service to the Earth. I urge each of you to live every day with the Earth's needs in mind. And I challenge you to broaden your sphere of love to include other creatures, those humans that are less fortunate, and the Earth habitat we share. Shake yourself and your family, friends and neighbors from your deadly slumber and commit to progressive social and ecological change. Find you way home to Gaia.


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