Earth Prophecy - And the way out
by Dr. Glen Barry

 
 

SUMMARY

Imagine the panic as Americans and others in the world that are ecologically ignorant and isolated realize food does not come from grocery stores but from healthy agro-ecosystems with dependable climatic patterns and rich soil. That water does not come from the tap, but from aquifers and rivers. That weather need not follow reliable cycles, that natural resources are finite, and that social order depends upon all the above. I prophesize that within my lifetime environmental destruction and unsustainable living will lead to widespread global ecological collapse and social disintegration; leading eventually to
extinction for most life forms including humans and Gaia - the Earth system itself. This is the Earth Prophecy.None of what follows need happen, and I close this essay by repeating the policies that offer the way out. We have all the tools and knowledge on hand to prevent global ecological and social collapse.

Earth Meanders by Dr. Glen Barry
http://earthmeanders.blogspot.com/
December 23, 2006

Dr. Glen Barry is the President and Founder of Ecological Internet (EI). He is a conservation biologist and ecologist, a writer of essays and blogs, and a computer specialist and technology researcher. Dr Barry's tireless use of the Internet to address global ecological change has been described as providing "the global ecological conscience" necessary to pursue and achieve global ecological sustainability.

Imagine the panic as Americans and others in the world that are ecologically ignorant and isolated realize food does not come from grocery stores but from healthy agro-ecosystems with dependable climatic patterns and rich soil. That water does not come from the tap, but from aquifers and rivers. That weather need not follow reliable cycles, that natural resources are finite, and that social order depends upon all the above. I prophesize that within my lifetime environmental destruction and unsustainable living will lead to widespread global ecological collapse and social disintegration; leading eventually to extinction for most life forms including humans and Gaia - the Earth system itself. This is the Earth Prophecy.

None of what follows need happen, and I close this essay by repeating the policies that offer the way out. We have all the tools and knowledge on hand to prevent global ecological and social collapse. Yet the hour is late, widespread political and personal will essentially absent, and the momentum behind Earth destroying trends so pernicious and constant that barring major social change unprecedented in scale and ambition, the Earth and her inhabitants are going to die a hard and brutal death. Globally as the climate becomes wildly unpredictable, droughts and floods prevalent, and the land and oceans lifeless; starvation and disease will become rampant, economies will fail, and social cohesion will break down leading to unprecedented violence and death as the truth of existence is revealed to a formerly air-conditioned, consumer society fighting to survive.

Firstly, what do I mean when I say the Earth is dying? The prevailing sentiment is whatever the fate of humanity; the Earth's biota shall sufficiently persist to maintain other life forms. Evolution will be set back by a sixth major extinction event, but over geological time life will bounce back. I am not convinced this is the case. Given the magnitude and speed of the assault upon every aspect of Gaia's biosphere and ecosystems - toxins interacting, oceans dead and empty, failed water ecosystems, a dysfunctional atmosphere, and the virtual annihilation of native terrestrial habitats - it is not inconceivable that the planet could essentially become lifeless. Maybe entirely, or possibly some bacteria, dandelions and rats hold on - in either case the Earth is dead.

It is prophesized that advanced, complex life including humans and the Earth as a living system are imminently threatened with extinction. Humanity's manner of existing threatens advanced life for a very long time if not forever. The coming eco-collapse is going to be brutal and violent. And it could all be averted, or at least some semblance of humanity and ecosystems achieved post-collapse, given people power and political will now.


Eco-collapse

When will ecological collapse start? I would say it has already as polar bears drown, bears refuse to hibernate and penguins die off. What has become of winter? Falling water tables, eroded soils, desertification, extreme weather, melting ice caps, it is all happening now. Climate change is but one of many aspects of our alienation from the Earth; as soils, water, oceans, forests are all failing along with the atmosphere. Global ecological apocalypse is upon us and the day is late. Only pampered, isolated modern humans could refuse to acknowledge we have a problem. Malthus was right and we are as a species and planet fully feeling the ramifications of believing there are no limitations upon resources and that exponential growth of many types including population, economic growth and resource use can be sustained. Technology puts off limits to growth, it does not supersede them.

The ecological foundation of being is failing. And as a result here is just a sampling of what we can expect. The effects of human consumption and fossil fuel use are going to spawn tremendous climate feedbacks. The Amazon, Congo and Asia/Pacific rainforests (those that remain) will largely die releasing their carbon. Melting permafrost and ocean methane hydrates, along with heat absorbing open Arctic waters, will further consolidate and ensure run-away climate change of such magnitude that adaptation is futile.

China is going to implode under the weight of its own runaway economy, followed closely by India, the U.S. and Europe. The collapse of these over-developed regions will destabilize the entire world, leading to military adventurism to access resources including water, energy and fertile land. Rising seas, extreme weather, degraded soils, desertification, dead oceans, scarce water - and the resultant militarization to maintain over-consumption - are going to make billions of refugees. And as these human beings lack places to run too; they will die from disease and starvation, and from violence including murder, rape and slavery by those in technologically rich, well stocked compounds seeking to protect what they have.

As energy supplies are disrupted and run out the whole industrial, agricultural, transport and production system will grind to a halt. Those that have access to land and seeds - from small farms to suburban lawns - will be called upon to raise their own food, while fighting off marauders and with shortages of seeds and tools of self-sufficiency. Two approaches will emerge to combat the gravest threat ever to civilization. One will strive to return to, and restore the Earth. The other will try to engineer a way out of a crisis caused by over-engineering with such things as fertilizing the oceans with iron, installing space mirrors, and releasing sulphur pollution. The latter can only fail as the biosphere is too complex to be engineered, and unknown effects guaranteed.


The way out

Clearly there is much individuals can do to reduce consumption and lead an eco-conscious lifestyle. And by all means we should eat less or no meat, drive little, consume only quality items we need but disavow conspicuous needless consumption, and a hundred other things. But the uptake of such beliefs is spotty, human numbers too great by at least four times to sustain anything approximating our present lifestyles, and thus personal action alone is unlikely to in itself nullify the Earth Prophecy. In addition to taking personal action, we need to organize and work for a movement that envisions and implements societal changes truly adequate to avoid ecological and societal collapse.

On other occasions I have written in depth regarding what is necessary in terms of Earth policy if humanity is to have a future. There are two critical variables that influence the Earth Prophecies likelihood, and whether the coming ecosystem collapse kills the Earth system and its inhabitants, or whether it is weathered and after much death and suffering a new, simpler yet fuller ways of ecologically restorative living embraced. The first is how quickly humanity embraces reduction of industrial greenhouse gas emissions as a central organizing principle of global community and responsibility. We should have
started in earnest in the booming 90s, but barring that we need to have started and made real progress in decarbonizing our economies within the decade, and continue until emissions are reduced to the extent that global heating can be managed. Further keys to address climate change include renewable energy
subsidies, energy efficiency and conservation, and leaving our coal in the ground.

Ecological Internet's "Sustainability Solutions Initiative" runs through the whole gamut of the top ten governance policy initiatives necessary to avert the coming ecological apocalypse. A more full accounting of this new project meant to identify sufficient policies to save the Earth can be found at http://www.ecoearth.info/ssi/ . Let me paraphrase here. We need to go far beyond better light bulbs and hybrid cars and fundamentally reorganize human existence. In addition to the adequate climate policy above, major initiatives are needed in the realm of population control and reduction; terrestrial, aquatic and hydrological ecosystem protection and restoration including no more logging or other industrial development in ancient forests; the pursuit of sustainable economies requires a rethinking of both agriculture and economics, and the embrace of appropriate green technologies. And finally the world can not be saved and the prophecy averted without strengthened global governance, global demilitarization and a reallocation of these funds to the programs above and urgent efforts to tackle terrible inequitable poverty which plagues the world.

Maybe world environmental leaders like Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio and Laurie David will embrace this ambitious yet sufficient agenda. Or maybe they will continue talking, hawking light bulbs and virtually marching. But as all hell starts breaking loose, and society and individuals refuse to make the types of changes listed above, there is another option I have considered academically in depth - and that is an Earth Revolution to topple the whole rotten, polluting, inequitable and Earth killing economic system
(see http://earthmeanders.blogspot.com/2006/06/earth-treatise-living-for-earth.html).

If all else fails, a band of Earth insurgents must rise to eliminate Earth destroyer's property, principles and economic system. A vast, well financed network of Earth rebels will develop to make a last ditch effort to save salvation.
Simultaneously such a movement would promote practitioners of truly sustainable agrarian, relocalized and democratic living to step in to provide the solutions to reconstitute humanity and the Planet post collapse and revolution. We must be prepared with seeds, workable permaculture methods, and ways to help people reconnect to the Earth to feed and house themselves while nurturing a sick global patient - Gaia, the Earth system.

Let us all recommit ourselves this year to organizing, advocating and protesting to stop and reverse Earth destruction; at the personal, campaign and global policy level. And let us prepare for the final battle to avert global ecological Armageddon, by living as sustainably as possible given social constraints and preparing the knowledge, seeds, tools and methods to fight for a future for Homo sapiens, the millions of species with which we share existence, and the Earth's being. I love the Earth so much and my heart is breaking, yet the above is a truthful examination based upon decades of learning and action. It is my gift to you this solstice season. Let us together find the way out from this horrific Earth Prophecy.

Top Ten Policies Necessary to Pursue Global Ecological Sustainability http://www.ecoearth.info/ssi/. Following are the most urgent policy prescriptions necessary to maximize the likelihood of a habitable biosphere and minimize human death as a result of collapsing ecosystems. They are listed in order of importance. To have any chance of averting global apocalypse these sorts of policies must be implemented with all haste. Your comments are welcome regarding this list and avenues for implementation - which will be enumerated further as the project progresses.

No. 1 - POPULATION - Human populations surpass what the Earth can bear. We must stabilize and then reduce human population to at most a third current levels. Global limits must be placed on the number of children born, using incentives at first such as tax benefits for smaller families. Humanity can reduce population on their own accord or the Earth will do so for us.

No. 2 - GREENHOUSE GASES - Abrupt runaway climate change is happening now as energy costs the Earth dearly. Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by at least 70% as soon as possible. Maintaining an operable atmosphere requires phasing out coal and oil, introducing a substantial carbon tax, investing in renewable energy, and rigorously pursuing conservation and efficiency. No large-scale new energy systems such as nuclear or biofuel until shown to be environmentally benign in the long-term.

No. 3 - PROTECT ECOSYSTEMS - Large, connected and strictly protected ecosystems over much of the land and sea are a prerequisite for provision of air, water, biodiversity, soil and other services upon which life depends. Large protected marine areas must be established, ending industrial fishing. And ancient forest logging must end, strictly protecting remaining intact natural habitats.

No. 4 - CONSUMPTION - Excessive resource use to meet frivolous human wants must be restricted by promoting a consumption ethic that stresses voluntary simplicity and a sense of "enoughness", and laws that minimize impacts. Simple reforms such as standardizing consumer packaging and making all waste recyclable will reduce necessary consumption's impacts.

No. 5 - AGRICULTURE - A transition must be made to sustainable agricultural practices and eating habits with the emphasis upon organic, non-GMO, low meat diets that are locally produced. Eating habits impact virtually all ecosystems, resulting in natural forest clearing, toxic food chains, depleted water, soil loss and reduction of ecosystems' ability to hold carbon.

No. 6 - SUSTAINABLE ECONOMIES - Economic systems are a subset of ecological systems and as such all economic activities must maintain or expand natural capital. Growth that destroys natural capital is not sustainable, and growth as a measure of economic activity is an ecological malignancy. A steady state, sustainable economy must be business, industry and humanity's goal.

No. 7 - GREEN TECHNOLOGY - Technology by itself cannot bring sustainability, but clean and green technologies are important and provide huge economic opportunities. There is tremendous potential for development of energy efficient, more sustainable and fully recyclable buildings, products and services (including hybrid cars and fluorescent lightbulbs). But the use and trade of toxic chemicals must end.

No. 8 - ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION - Too many ecosystems have already been lost and diminished for humanity to persist. Achieving sustainability and preparing for post collapse societies depends upon targeted restoration of important ecosystems. Priorities for ecological restoration include watersheds, establishing ecological core areas and urban environments.

No. 9 - POVERTY- Billions living in desperate poverty is unethical and damages the environment. All cannot live like Americans, but if the Earth's wealth is shared we can all live well. The focus must be upon the overdeveloped world living more simply, sustainable development, equitable and just political and economic systems, and green technology transfer.

No. 10 - DEMILITARIZATION - Increasingly conflicts over resources fuel militarism and insurgency. Military budgets divert resources from crucial social and environmental investments, and must be slashed. Lasting security that is equitable, just and sustainable is best achieved through greater international law and investments that nurture global ecosystems.

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Dr. Glen Barry Bioography
http://www.ecologicalinternet.org/

Dr. Glen Barry is the President and Founder of Ecological Internet (EI). He is a conservation biologist and ecologist, a writer of essays and blogs, and a computer specialist and technology researcher. Dr Barry's tireless use of the Internet to address global ecological change has been described as providing "the global ecological conscience" necessary to pursue and achieve global ecological sustainability.

Ecological Internet specializes in the construction of environmental portals with unique information retrieval tools and original analysis. EI's web sites (Climate Ark, Forests.org, EcoEarth.Info, Water Conserve, Ocean Conserve and Rainforest Portal) are widely recognized as premier environmental news, information and analysis web sites, and enjoy some 30,000 users a day from around the world. As the leader of EI, Dr. Barry carries out a range of duties requiring disparate proficiencies including ecological research, campaign strategizing, computer programming and NGO management.

Dr. Barry holds a Ph.D. in "Land Resources" from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a Masters of Science in "Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development" also from Madison, and a Bachelor of Arts in "Political Science" from Marquette University. His research has been into use of the Internet to facilitate conservation outcomes, where his scholarly insights have been repeatedly tested through years of observation of actual Internet campaigns on behalf of the Earth. He is deeply committed to environmental sustainability, and his rainforest conservation and Internet campaigning have been supported by the MacArthur Foundation, Threshold Foundation and many others. He has worked within academia, multi-lateral organizations and non-governmental organizations.

Dr. Barry is single with a 13 year old daughter and a well trained and loyal golden retriever. He resides in rural Wisconsin where he practices green living. He enjoys walking, reading, tree planting, gardening, traveling and movies. Perhaps nothing brings him more satisfaction than waxing philosophically on environmental sustainability and related issues on his Earth Meanders personal blog.

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