Learning from the Earth
OVER THE LAST BILION YEARS the Earth transformed the once harsh, barren and grey surface of the planet into a stable, thriving, and abundantly green biosphere. On both a planetary and galactic scale, it is an epic story. However, what makes the story even more remarkable is that the tellers of the tale are thoroughly part of it.
Indeed, our telling of the story is only possible through the Earth’s billion year management of carbon; through its million year cultivation of consciousness; through our last millennia of carbon de-compaction; through our the last century of industry; and through our last decades of paleontology and carbon powered scientific advancement.
Only through this epochal unfolding, can we look out with vast vantage upon the Earth’s story and truly grasp our own.
Rather than be mired in self-judgment at our play with carbon, we can be dazzled by the Earth’s. The way the Earth has managed its carbon has greened its surface, steadily cultivating ever higher stability, livability, harmony and abundance. And finally, through its cultivation of consciousness it has propelled us the last of the way to the telling and pondering of the story itself.
So, where do we go from here?
First, let us hold fast to our hard earned vantage and the sweeping view it affords! From here we can observe another pivotal phenomenon. Aside from some meteor strikes and massive volcanoes, it is a phenomenon unseen on the planet for hundreds of millions of years.
Thanks to the doings of us and our ancestors, never before has the Earth’s atmospheric balance of CO2 jumped upwards so quickly. Never before has there been processes that so rapidly added more carbon to the biosphere than they removed. The ensuing ecological disturbances directly challenge our current carbon play.
It’s all a little familiar.
If you’ve ever seen a child play at blocks for the first time, you will recall that the results are remarkably the same. After the thrill of assembling a grand creation, when the pieces come tumbling down, when things don’t turn out as desired, the upset youngster invariably blames themselves and the blocks. Of course, neither the blocks nor the child are to blame! Only through that first play can the child grasp the goal of the game.
There is no other way.
Likewise, our disruption of ecological cycles is not a consequence of our ‘nature’ any more than it is the nature of carbon. Rather, the issue is the way we have used carbon in comparison to the way that the Earth has used carbon. For the Earth it has never been about a final creation, but rather the creative process.
For us, it has been about making castles — end-products: Single-use plastics, oils, fuels, etc. When our creations come to their end, whether burnt or disposed, the leftovers did not fit back into ecological cycles. The more we have used the carbon as ends, the more the cycles have gotten clogged. In comparison, the Earth has used carbon as a means: building blocks that are reusable over and over again — proteins, carbohydrates, lipids and nucleic acids, DNA. When one organism comes to an end, another begins by building itself with the first’s blocks — ad indefinitum. Whereas our linear and additive usage of carbon has destabilized ecologies, the Earth has enriched them.
Like a determined child on a second-go at blocks, we’re trying harder than ever before. With a shame at things not going as desired, we’ve got our heads down, striving diligently to make our technologies less polluting, less damaging, less grey. Although there has been some progress, on the whole our polluting, damaging and greying continues unabated.
I believe it is time to raise our heads from the toil. And in particular the judgment. Again, rather than despair, we can be amazed.
Our once-in-a-million-years phenomenon of additive carbon usage is in fact a tremendous opportunity.
For the first time, with our usage of carbon as a foil, as a backdrop, we can discern the wisdom and ways of the Earth.
Rather than simply learning from our mistakes, we can learn from a master.
Next: The Six Earthen Ways
This was the fourth installment in a series laying out a new theory of Green — what I am calling Earthen Ethics. In this segment we laid out the foundation for the theory — in the next we’ll see how the Earth sets the penultimate example of ecological enrichment. Installments so far:
Russell Maier is based in Indonesia, where he and his partner Ani Himawati tend a food forest garden that provides their fruit and greens. Together they track their household plastic and CO2 impacts. Their monthly household plastic consumption of 0.8kg/month is 14% of the Indonesian average. In 2020 their household CO2 emissions of 2046 Kg were 46.5% of the Indonesian per capita average. Meanwhile, their trees, bamboo, ecobricking and offsetting enabled them to secure 286% more CO2 (5851 kg of CO2 ) and keep 2200% more plastic out of the biosphere than they consumed (5.5Kg). See Russell’s full household plastic disclosure. See also the full green impact accounting of the enterprise of developing An Earthen Ethics. Russell and Ani are leaders in the global regenerative ecobrick movement.