Learning from the Earth

Our once-in-a-million-years phenomenon of atmospheric carbon addition is a tremendous opportunity. For the first time, with it as a foil, we can see clearly the ways of Earth.

Learning from the Earth
The dawn of Earthen thinking: Earthrise, the first photograph taken by humans of the Earth rising over the moon during the Apollo 8 mission, December 24, 1968. Photograph William Anders, --NASA Apollo Archive

SO IT HAS BEEN THAT OVER THE LAST TWO BILLION YEARS, the unique planetary pattern of the Earth has unfolded, transforming a once barren rock into the thriving biosphere that is our common home today and bringing plastic into our hands. From both a solar and even galactic view, it is an epic story and a fabulously unique material. However, what makes the story even more remarkable is that the tellers of the tale are thoroughly part of it.

Indeed, our tale telling is only possible through the convergence of stellar dust into the unique configuration of the solar system; through the billion year unfolding of the Earth’s matter and momentum; through the hundred million year spiral of carbon into ever more complex life; through the last millennia of civilizational development; and through our last century of carbon de-compaction, industry, and science.

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 and despair 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 vast 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 modern humans, never before has the Earth’s atmospheric balance of CO2 jumped upwards so quickly1. 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 at play with 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 tumble down, when the results aren’t as intended, the upset youngster invariably blames themselves and the blocks.

Of course, neither 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.2 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 itself.

For us, it has become more and more about making castles. Steadily our modern ways have increasingly intended end-products— linear and circular processes dependent on the de-compaction of ancient carbon. In contrast, the Earth has steadily tended towards subtracting and concentrating carbon out of atmosphere and into ever increasing diversity and awareness. Whereas our linear and additive usage of carbon has destabilized ecologies, the Earth has enriched them — making them ever greener and more abundant.

Like a despairing and determined child on a second-go at block-building, we’re trying harder than ever before. With a shame at our failings, we have our heads down, striving valiantly to make our technologies less polluting, less damaging, less grey. However, to the extent that our processes are nonetheless damaging, on the whole our polluting and greying continues unabated.3

I believe it is time to raise our heads from the toil — and in particular the judgment. Again, rather than despair, we can be awed.

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, the stark contrast between our modern ways and the ways of Earth’s can be observed. And our modern petro-capital society can appreciate those cultures that left the carbon in the ground. The deep resonance between the ways of the Earth and their cycle-centric cultures is clear-- their ways pointing the direction to discern the green way forward.

Rather than simply learning from our mistakes, we can learn from a master.

That was the fourth installment a series laying a theory of Green — what I am calling An Earthen Ethics.  Want to keep going? You can subscribe and get the free eBook with all the published chapters.  Or keep going to the next one here...

The Earthen Ways
In the way that cycle-centric cultures have followed the example of ancient masters of ecological integration, so too can we.


1The present atmospheric content [of CO2} exceeds anything Earth has experienced in the last million years and possibly the last 20 million years” The Emerald Planet, David Beerling, Oxford University Press, 2007.

2Here I allude to one of the great debates of our time:  whether human nature is fundamentally ecologically destructive or enriching.  My position on the great possibility of the later, is in fact the entire thrust of the tractatus verus viridis.

3See Jevon’s Paradox:  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox


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