Earth Meanders by Dr.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.