Read or listen to Part One of Memo to a Dying Species.
From Part 1 – Each year, Homo Sapiens use more resources than are regenerated by Nature by a factor of four. No other species comes close to this level of exploitation and related destruction even in local habitats, and Nature’s global carrying capacity is in severe and massive disequilibrium. And we wonder why Nature is responding with climate change and coronaviruses?
Homo Sapiens procreative success has been unparalleled in the history of the Earth, and it is fair to say we have waged a hitherto mostly successful war against Nature. Having extended our life expectancy well beyond the 45 or so years or originally dealt to us, in most parts of the world the average human will spend 80 years on the planet when it used to be as our teeth began to fail, dying would begin.
Part of our success is that we have a highly, perhaps too highly developed sense of self-awareness, and, sadly, we see ourselves as distinct from or somehow above the teeming masses of all other, not so self-possessed species. We love ourselves so much, too much, that we wish more than anything to defy Nature’s own rules. Anyone that tells you differently has either not been seriously tested with their life or that of one they love. Very few, even those suffering terrible illnesses, wish for death. I cannot recall a single instance – Lieutenant Governor Dan Rambo from Texas notwithstanding – of people volunteering themselves or others to hit the ice flow just to extend the life of the group just a little longer.
Too good at survival is a two-way street
The hard wired “protect all life at all costs” ethos is what makes Homo Sapiens what they are, and, in some respects, strong as a species.
But is also an Achilles’ heel in terms of survivability. There are too many of us on this planet, and, as a result of our success at survival, we are slowly grinding myriad habitats and other species literally to a dusty extinction even though we need them — species and ecosystems — for our own health and welfare.
Yes, save the panda and the rhinos, but save the fungi and algae too
There are many folks now claiming with some credibility that climate change and the degeneration of biodiversity is exposing Homo Sapiens to viruses and diseases we were never meant to be exposed to. Deep in the beating hearts and lungs of the African, Asian, and South American jungles, lurk terrible viruses vital to their ecosystems, deadly to ours: among them are millions of animal borne coronavirus. Yet we continue to sanitize and dessertify our soils, poison our water and waterways, and clot our atmosphere with grit, grime, and toxins. In our rigor to combat nature, we are managing to extinguish 4 to 5 species a day in the name of progress, and in the name of a growing GDP. These are species and ecosystems we depend upon, even if we cannot see, enumerate, or even conceive of most of them.
You want to know how arrogant this is, ruining the very systems we need to survive, thinking it will all be okay? Live in your bathroom for a month with a single tub of water and no garbage disposal, consuming the way you would normally, and see how that works out.
Nature’s dictums are exacting but not digital
Nature will not stand for our hubris, in fact, Nature has never allowed for it. Yet Nature is not mad, nor determined, nor scared. Nature simply finds balance. Its operating system is perfectly and ruthlessly calibrated to balance not hegemony, integration not separation. These are Nature’s dictums.
We are, quite bluntly, consuming ourselves to death. If you are a complete and true environmentalist, you have no fear. You know that long after we are gone, Nature will continue. It will neither miss a beat nor say a eulogy for our passing. For among all Nature’s species, the ‘life is precious’ above all others credo is ours alone.
Is it wrong then, to believe all life is precious? Was the UK’s initial response to the coronavirus, the ‘cull the herd strategy’, a more effective approach to survivability? Maybe. But I wonder what Boris Johnson is thinking now that he survived coronavirus? Then again, thinking adaptation is an either-or, on-off, black or white proposition is to misunderstand the very nature of human adaptability, and underappreciates our capacity to redraw the lines of what is possible.
It is not survival of the fittest, rather it is survival of all with fitness
If we start with the premise that all lives are precious, and that we will do most anything to save and extend life, we must be honest about what that means in terms of our relationship with Nature, understanding Nature’s ruthless demand for balance.
If we want to survive, to flourish as a species, we must be humble. Nature must be at the center of our belief system, recognizing that working against Nature is a no-win proposition. It costs too much energy, too much sorrow, and ultimately, if we don’t change course, we will lose anyway.
To thoughtful Homo Sapiens, and there are many, the dichotomy of health over economic well-being is trite and false. Framing the debate in this way is incredibly lazy and intellectually odious, not to mention head-in-the-sandism to the extreme. It is no way to confront a crisis, climate or coronavirus.
The short-termism embedded in many political plans to overcome these two existential crises, are largely based on fear and reflexive sentiment over the wisdom of an ecological path. Aiming for simple recovery is to aim far too low. We need new way to live. Our fear of ‘loss’ of what we know, and the currents of what we have ‘achieved’ are deep, wide, and strong. Most Homo Sapiens simply cannot conceive of faith in Nature, or perhaps better put, a Natural Faith, which would demand, at the least, a radical deconstruction of the commercially based life as we know it.
It is either 11:59 pm or 12:01 am, we can still choose between the end or a new beginning: but know this, incremental change on the fringes of our lifestyles will simply not cut it. There was a time it may have, long ago – before we bet on fossil fuel as our best source of energy. But not now.
Do Homo Sapiens have the intellectual and metaphysical savvy to do more than simply ache for a return to pre-corona life? Most, likely not. People are living in fear and rightly so. Asking us to fundamentally change our relationships with one another and Nature during a pandemic is probably more than our prefrontal cortexes – the part of the brain that understands concepts and synopsizes information – can process: we are, or at least feel like we are stuck in that garbage filled bathroom all alone.
Fortunately, everyone does not agree or feel that way. The Extinction Rebellion says to change the herd’s mind about the existential threat of climate change and biodiversity loss – or any other matter– we need only convince about 4% of its members. Thus, while the pandemic crisis is a horrible tragedy in the annals of Homo Sapiens, it provides a once in specie’s life span opportunity for course correction about living within the dictates of Nature, and to stop our useless, unwinnable war against it. I assume of course, more than 4% of Americans and folks from other countries get that coronavirus is analogous to the growing number of violent climate events, if not symptomatic of climate change itself.
Four trends that give hope
Prior to the pandemic, I saw cautious hope in four trends and one observation which bode well for reversing our decline as a species, while protecting all life, not just our own, as precious.
The first is a declining dependence on fossil fuels and the emergence clean energy sources. In addition to providing an exploitable economic opportunity in the energy sector, switching to clean power has incredible knock on and potentially positive disruptive effects in other parts of economy from electric cars, batteries, to ending harmful monopoly in utilities.
The second trend is the desire amongst an increasingly larger portion of the population to address critical biodiversity loss. This is not yet the burning issue it needs to be, but thanks to movements like the Extinction Rebellion, it has a future.
The third is a growing movement around the world demanding economic, social and political equality. Redistribution of resources that lead to greater food security, dignified housing, personal safety and welfare, access to culture and social resources is fundamental to relaxing our massive scarcity reflex and to developing a new way to live, one that celebrates less things and more time to simply live simply.
Fourth, there are signs that fertility rates are slowing for multiple reasons, including: rising incomes in developing countries, declining hegemony of the nuclear family, depressed interest in sex among younger people, purpose driven lifestyles, etc. It’s time to slow down our population, if you don’t know how, see point three above.
Finally, an observation: many people trapped in their homes on coronavirus lock down for weeks now are coming to realize the imbalance of preCovid19 life and that a new lifestyle ethos could emerge from the crisis, one that favors time to do the things we love with the ones we love, over our perverse, greater than full-time pursuit of money and things.
Can we change the prime directive?
Homo Sapiens have enormous physical, metaphysical, and spiritual challenges ahead. The only outcome that counts, however, will be a redefinition of what constitutes an acceptable lifestyle, one that satisfies our moral codes and works within the dictates of Nature. Simply put, this is the crucible of whatever time we have left on this planet.
The single biggest challenge? To choose peace with Nature and among our riven selves, ensuring all life is precious all of the time, not only in moments of crisis. Everything else is just nibbling at the edge of a disaster.
Oh, and by the way, the woman at the bar, I caught up with her at the door as she was leaving, I tapped her on the shoulder…. I just had to ask, “What did you whisper as you were leaving?” She smiled, as if re-tasting the last sharp drop of liquor from her cocktail, and replied “…..choose well.”
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If you haven’t already, check out a new video by producer director Mateus de Sousa Shields on Why You Should Garden and not just in times of the coronavirus.
Note to readers so there is no confusion: I firmly believe and have worked all my life for a better world based on the premise that all life, for all species is precious. No person of any persuasion, let alone the vulnerable, should be left to fend for themselves against the coronavirus or any other test of Nature for that matter either.