Chapter 1: A Crisis of Being
Capitalism (like communism) is itself embedded in more fundamental belief systems that are largely beneath the surface of our awareness.
Addiction arises in the presence of basic unmet needs. The food addict isn’t really hungry for food; she is hungry for connection.
What is the unmet need behind the addiction to fossil fuels?
We seek through growth to meet other needs, needs that, because they are fundamentally qualitative, growth can never meet. Basic human desires for connection, community, beauty, sacredness, and intimacy are met with faux substitutes that temporarily numb but ultimately heighten the longing.
Ecological deterioration is but one aspect of an initiation ordeal propelling civilisation into a new story, a next mythology.
The essence of the Story of Separation is the separate self in a world of other.
Our destiny, then, is to ascend beyond nature’s original limits, to become its lords and masters.
The name I like to use for the new story is Thich Nhat Hanh’s term ‘inter-being.’
Who I am depends on who you are. The world is part of me, just as I am part of it.
We do not see that what we devalue and destroy is part of ourselves.
Our political discourse is rife with good-versus-evil narratives. To blame evil is to misdiagnose the problem.
The totality of circumstances driving ecological degradation and climate derangement is greater than conventional opinion recognises.
One of the addictions that we are going to have to give up is the addiction to fighting.
The primary climate change narrative is basically, “Trust us, bad things will happen if we don’t hurry up and make big changes. It’s almost too late-the enemy is at the gates!”
War is based on a kind of reductionism: it reduces complex interconnected causes - that include oneself - to a simple, external cause called the enemy.
Chapter 2: Beyond Climate Fundamentalism
Fundamentalism reduces the complex to the simple and demands the sacrifice of the immediate, the human, or the personal in service to an overarching ulterior goal that trumps all.
If we want solidarity, we need to understand that genocide and ecocide, human degradation and ecological degradation, are part of the same fabric, and that neither will change without the other changing.
He will expect that the deep roots of homelessness are common with the deep roots of climate change.
He will understand that it is okay to devote himself to what stirs his compassion the most, confident that what he is doing is still ‘relevant’ in the face of global crisis.
Like war thinking and money thinking, the problem with carbon reductionism is that it reduces ‘everything matters’ to ‘one thing matters.’
The indictment of science as reductionistic is often misunderstood to refer to its quest to explain the behaviour of wholes by the properties of their parts.
This quest, though, rests on a more insidious and more fundamental reductionism: that of the world into number.
Its conceit is that someday, when everything has been ordered, classified, and measured, we will have penetrated every mystery and the world will finally be ours.
This reduction of reality to quantity is a reduction of the infinite to the finite, the sacred to the mundane, and the qualitative to the quantitative. It is the abnegation of mystery, aspiring to encompass all of reality in its bounds.
What is typically measured is that which serves the economic and political interests, and unconscious biases, of those who commission the measurements.
If only we could extend our measurements to totality, we would be able to make optimum decisions. But will our measurements ever be complete? No.
Such issues such as biodiversity, toxic pollution, radioactive waste, etc., not to mention social injustice and economic inequality, recede in urgency under the regime of carbon accountancy.
It is a symptomatic fever of a deeper disharmony, a disharmony that pervades all aspects of our civilisation.
We will continue to abuse our fellow beings, even our own Mother Earth, as long as we carry unhealed social traumas. This does not mean “heal our traumas first before we try to heal the environment.” It is to recognise that social healing and ecological healing are the same work.
Traditional areas of social activism that aim to address racism, poverty, inequality, misogyny, and so forth are important but they leave unchallenged key institutions like education, medicine, money, and property, often engaging them only in terms of equal access.
It is a very tepid form of activism to strive for the equal application of existing systems, when the systems themselves are inherently oppressive whatever the race, gender, or sexual orientation of their subjects.
This quality of complex systems collides with our culture’s general approach to problem-solving, which is first to identify the cause, the culprit, the germ, the pest, the bad guy, the disease, the wrong idea, or the bad personal quality, and second to dominate, defeat, or destroy that culprit.
Perhaps what we are facing in the multiple crises converging upon us is a breakdown in our basic problem-solving strategy, which itself rests on the deeper narratives of the Story of Separation.
Contrary to the presupposition implied in my aforementioned Google search results, the health of the global depends on the health of the local. The most important global policies would be those that create conditions where we can restore and protect millions of local ecosystems.
This does not mean we don’t face a global ecological crisis. We do, and it far transcends what we call climate change. However, if everyone focused their love, care, and commitment on protecting and regenerating their local places, while respecting the local places of others, then a side effect would be the resolution of the climate crisis.
Chapter 3: The Climate Spectrum and Beyond
- Climate Change Skepticism: Climate change isn’t happening.
- Techno-optimism: Climate change is another of the challenges we will overcome in the triumphant onward march of technology.
- Climate orthodoxy: Burning fossil fuels poses a grave threat to humanity and the planet.
- Climate justice and systems change: Climate change is inextricably linked to our economic system and various system of social oppression.
- Climate catastrophism: It is already too late.
The frame of the debate is part of the problem:
- A conception of nature as ‘environment’ and thus separate from ourselves.
- Assumption that climate is governed by global geo mechanical processes and not by life processes
- A mechanistic view of nature as an incredibly complicated machine
- The primacy of a quantitative approach to knowledge
- Valuing other beings based on instrumental utilitarianism. (their use value)
- The belief that human beings are the only fully conscious, subjective agents on this planet.
A new frame of the debate:
- Earth is a living organism
- Each biome, local ecosystem, and species contributes in unique ways to the health and resiliency of the whole. They are the organs and tissues of the Gaian organism.
- All beings-plants and animals, soil, rives, oceans, mountains, forests, etc deserve respect as alive, sentient subjects and not mere things.
- Any damage to the integrity of the planet or the beings on it inevitably damages human beings as well, whether or not the causal pathways for that damage are visible.
- Similarly, a healthy planet will benefit the physical and spiritual health of humanity.
- The psychic climate comprising our beliefs, relationships, and myths is intimately connected to the atmospheric climate.
- Likewise, the political climate and social climate are co-resonant with the atmospheric climate.
- The purpose of humanity is to contribute our gifts to the beauty, aliveness, and evolution of Earth.
Over the last few years, a growing chorus of insider critics have been exposing serious flaws in scientific funding, publishing, and research, leading some to go so far as to say, “Science is broken.”
- Various kinds of fraud: some deliberate, but mostly unconscious and systemic.
- Irreproducibility of results and lack of incentive to attempt replicaiton
- Misuse of statistics, such as “P-hacking”- the mining of research data to extract a post hoc “hypothesis” for publication.
- Severe flaws in the system of peer review; for example, its propensity to enforce existing paradigms, to be hostile to anything that challenges the views of the reviewers whose careers are invested in those views.
- Difficulty in obtaining funding for unorthodox research hypotheses.
- Publication bias that favours positive results over negative results, and suppresses research that won’t benefit a researcher’s career.
Science can still be an ally but it need not be the master.
However, the main threat is not warming per se; it is what we might call “climate derangement.”
This derangement is caused primarily by the degradation of ecosystems worldwide: the draining of wetlands, the clear-cutting of forests, the tillage and erosion of soil, the decimation of fish, the destruction of habitats for development, the poisoning of air, soil, and water with chemicals, the damming of rivers, the extermination of predators, and so on.
Through disruption of the carbon cycle, the water cycle, and more mysterious Gaian processes, these activities degrade the resiliency of the ecosphere, leaving it unable to cope with the additional greenhouse gases emitted through human activity. The result may or may not be continued global warming, but it is certain to bring increasingly wild fluctuations not only in temperature but also, more importantly, in rainfall. (This may already be happening, as evidenced by the recent spate of record hot and cold temperatures in various places around the world.)
Standard climate theory gives primacy to CO2-induced radiative forcing as the cause of climate change, relegating ecosystem degradation to secondary status.
What is alarming is the potential amplification of this heating through a host of positive feedbacks. I will argue that these depend much more on biological processes than we have realised.
Chapter 4: The Water Paradigm
While most of the discourse around climate change focuses on temperature, water is the climatic factor that most directly impacts life.
The ability of land to support human life also depends on water. The more regular and abundant the precipitation, the better able the land is to sustain large numbers of people.
James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis’s Gaia Theory, which posits that life creates the conditions for life, put an end to the conceptual separation between geology and biology.
The paradigm shift when it comes to climate is not really from carbon to water; it is a shift from a geomechanical view to a Gaian view, a living systems view. Whether we are looking through the lens of carbon or water, from the living systems perspective we see that climate health depends on the health of local ecosystems everywhere.
The health of local ecosystems, in turn, depends on the health of the water cycle, and the health of the water cycle depends on the soil and the forests.
On carbon grounds alone, forest conservation and reforestation should be much higher priorities than they are today. Through the lens of water, their importance is even more critical.
Deforestation, on the other hand, leads to soil erosion and the reduced capacity of the land to absorb water, and consequently worse flooding after heavy rains.
In the last decade, a scientific theory called the ‘biotic pump’ has been gaining prominence that validates the universal vernacular wisdom that forests attract rain. First proposed in 2006 by Russian physicists V. G. Gorshkov and A. M. Makarieva, the theory says that evapotranspiration from large forests, especially old growth forests, creates low pressure systems when the water vapour rises and condenses.
Based on the principle that life creates conditions for life, the most important organs would be the ones that are most abundant with life: forests, wetlands, estuaries, coral reefs, and rich grasslands with their vast herds of animals.
Wetlands, as the name suggests, are also crucial for a healthy water cycle. They slow the migration of water from land to sea, giving it time to soak down into aquifers and evaporate up into the atmosphere to be a source of rainfall.
Blaming climate change for Central American droughts diminishes the urgency of addressing local deforestation, shifting emphasis onto global-scale solutions.
If anything on earth is sacred, it should be water. So far I have actually not upheld it as sacred in this discussion. Water is life. What we do to water, we do to life.
The Standard Narrative of climate change contends that climate was relatively stable until the twentieth century, when industrial emissions started to become significant.
According to some researchers, the buildup of CO2 and methane was well under way long before the Industrial Revolution. William Ruddiman claims that anomalous (compared to previous interglacials) buildup of both gases coincided in its onset with Neolithic deforestation and land cultivation.
In other words, the land is dying before our eyes, as it has been doing since ancient times. We have to stop killing it. This is bigger than cutting greenhouse gas emissions. It is reversing a relationship to soil and sea that has been part of civilisation for thousands of years.
Chapter 5: Carbon - The Ecosystems View
Most discourse about greenhouse gases focuses on emissions from fossil fuels, how to replace them with alternative energy sources, and whether it is possible to do this quickly enough.
Whether or not we reduce emissions, in the absence of ecological healing on every level, climate derangement will continue to worsen.
According to some estimates, the total number of trees on earth has fallen by nearly half since the dawn of civilization.
Forester Peter Wohlleben makes a strong case for forest sentience and the social nature of trees. His team used radionuclide-marked sugars to establish that healthy trees feed sick trees, and that parent trees nourish their offspring.
Perhaps the ecological crisis that we frame in terms of climate change and global boundaries will be resolved only when it has brought us to a place where we recognise the aliveness of forests and all things.
The crucial role of living systems in maintaining climate stability presents us with good news and bad news. The good news is that our world can survive, that it can potentially adapt to higher levels of greenhouse gases. The bad news is that the ecosystems that can do this are in steep decline all over the world.
One challenge that climate change skeptics sometimes pose is that CO2 levels and temperatures were much higher in past epochs than today, and the planet did just fine. The standard rejoinder is that never before have CO2 levels risen this abruptly. Whether or not that is true, I think it overlooks a more important issue: where did the biosphere’s historical resiliency come from? It came from healthy living ecosystems. Life creates the conditions for life, and the modern era has been an era of unprecedented death.
Modern reductionistic methods are well adapted to dealing with complicated (as opposed to complex) systems.
If we see Earth as alive, then we know that of course destroying its living tissue will render it unable to deal with fluctuations of atmospheric components.
If the living planet view I’ve described is correct, then these cooling measures will allow the real problem to continue unabated. Thinking we have solved the problem, we will be able to proceed with ecosystem destruction, covering up the symptom while worsening the disease.
As the foregoing descriptions of forests show, nature does not consist of a multitude of discrete, independent bits. When we chop nature up into bits in an attempt to understand it, we lose sight of the relationships among those bits. But ecological healing is all about the healing of relationships.
It isn’t only forests whose living complexity far exceeds our ability to measure, quantify, and reduce to data. What number should we give the climate contribution of sea otters?
I hope these examples illuminate the impossibility of encompassing the biosphere within quantitative models, and the impossibility of healing the biosphere with policies derived from those models.
Chapter 6: A Bargain with the Devil
By resorting to climate change arguments to oppose fracking, mountaintop removal, and tar sands excavation, we put ourselves in a vulnerable position should global warming come into doubt.
We might face not monotonic warming but increasingly unstable gyrations that are impossible to attribute convincingly to a single cause.
The climate narrative globalises the issue of ‘the environment’ demoting local environmental issues to secondary status. If the reason for saving a forest is the CO2, then one could rationalise its destruction by promising to plant another forest somewhere else.
If advocates of fracking or nuclear power can argue plausibly that their technology will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then by our own logic we must support those too.
Giant hydroelectric projects continue to devastate communities and ecosystems around the world. Perhaps worst of all, vast tracts of land in South America, Africa, and Asia are being bought up by corporations with the intention of converting them to biofuels production to produce supposedly carbon-neutral energy.
The argument that climate change is bad because it threatens our future strengthens the mentality of instrumental utilitarianism: nature is valuable for its usefulness to us.
A Story of Inter-being motivating earth healing neither contradicts nor depends on the story of saving the world from greenhouse gases. It supersedes it. The larger story of humanity in service to the healing and flourishing of Gaia is already bursting to take over.
Climate activists, listen. Understanding the role of ecosystems in maintaining climate equilibrium means that you can bypass skeptics arguments and build alliances by framing issues outside the carbon narrative. That’s because you understand that any ecological healing will stabilise the climate too.
Because the consequences of climate change are far off in time and space, people de-prioritize it in favour of more immediate issues. For most people, compared to their mortgage payment or their teenager’s addiction problem, climate change seems quite remote and theoretical - something that is only happening in the future or on the news
Around the world, deforestation, wetlands draining, industrial agriculture, hydroelectric dams, and urbanisation make land vulnerable to catastrophic floods, droughts, and temperature extremes. All of these practices are addressable on the local level. The climate change narrative tends to make them seem inconsequential - a drop in the bucket of global emissions. It shifts attention away from the local devastation toward distant, perhaps hypothetical, effects.
We need to pierce the perceptual, emotional, and systemic structures that separate people from their love for all beings of this earth.
Here is what I want everyone in the climate change movement to hear: People are not going to be frightened into caring. Scientific predictions about what will happen ten, twenty, or fifty years in the future are not going to make them care, not enough.
What would happen if we revalued the local, the immediate, the qualitative, the living, and the beautiful? We would still oppose most of what climate change activists oppose, but for different reasons: tar sands oil extraction because it kills the forests and mars the landscape; mountaintop removal because it obliterates sacred mountains; fracking because it insults and degrades the water; offshore oil drilling because oil spills poison wildlife; road building because it carves up the land, creates roadkill, contributes to suburbanisation and habitat destruction, and accelerates the loss of community.
The idea that deep and active care for the planet comes through experiences of beauty and grief, and not from fear of future ruin, might seem counterintuitive.
The lover does not need self-interested reasons to cherish his beloved. If we honour our inner nature-lover and speak from that place, others will hear us.
Do you know that feeling of enchantment on seeing a rare bird or on having a close encounter with an animal, seeing an eagle over the water, a whale spouting in the sea? Can you quantify how much poorer you would be without those beings? Come on, give me a number. Then we will know whether these are worth protecting.
Given how central instrumental utilitarianism is to the world-destroying machine, the environmental movement must take care not to reinforce that story with its rhetoric.
The growing Rights of Nature movement seeks to secure legal status for nonhuman beings; so far, Bolivia, Ecuador, and New Zealand have written these rights into law.
In the Story of Separation, what happens to the biosphere needn’t affect us, except as a temporary practical matter pending the technology to make us independent of nature.
Climate activists are fond of saying, “We are going to have to change now.” Maybe the significance of climate change is not ‘Change or perish,’ but an invitation to reorient civilisation toward beauty rather than quantity.
- Through the present system of money and property, which, as I lay out in Sacred Economics, reifies and justifies the ideology of competing separate selves.
- Through ideologies of reductionism and linearity that cause us always to underestimate the consequences of our actions.
- The conception of nature as a fantastically complicated machine obscures its wholeness and the interrelatedness of its parts.
- Through the dulling of our empathy and numbing of our feelings
Chapter 8: Regeneration
“In the new relationship, whenever we take from the earth, we seek to do so in a way that enriches the earth. We aren’t unconscious of our impact, nor do we seek to minimise our impact. We seek to make a beautiful impact that serves all life.”
Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil, water, and biodiversity.
Whether from the carbon frame, the water frame, or the biodiversity frame, regenerative agriculture makes ecological sense. Why then, despite rising popularity, does it remain so marginal - agriculturally as well as scientifically?
The reason has to do with its incompatibility with ingrained ways of thinking, economic institutions, and scientific practices.
Farms such as Brown’s and Gotsch’s use a dynamic combination of many regenerative practices that are sensitive to unique and ever-changing local conditions. This makes it very difficult to isolate and quantify the effects of any single practice.
The lack of hard data, in turn, prevents regenerative agriculture from entering a data-driven policy discourse.
For a regenerative agriculture system to work, farmers need to relate to land as to a unique individual. They must learn to listen to, see, and feel its needs and moods.
For one thing, it requires a lot more time, and therefore a much larger segment of the population to practice farming and gardening.
Farm work in the context of industrial agriculture is very different from farm work on small, diverse, ecological farms. On the latter, tasks are diverse as well; rarely does one spend hour after hour, day after day, picking beans or driving a tractor back and forth.
Optimal results come from long, even multigenerational, experience applied in intimate relationship to each farm. Comparisons of organic and conventional agriculture often use organic farms recently converted from conventional practices; rarely do they consider the most highly evolved farms where soil, knowledge, and practices have been rebuilt over decades.
I think the best way to accomplish this would be to reassign existing subsidies (agriculture is already highly subsidised in many countries). In the U.S., some 85 percent of farm subsidies go to the largest 15 percent of farm operations.17 Annual farm subsidies are at least $20 billion in the U.S. and even more in the EU. Using just half that, one hundred thousand American small farms a year could each receive a $100,000 three-year transition subsidy.
Here again we can simply redirect existing resources. Youth unemployment is at least 10 percent in the U.S. and nearly 20 percent in Europe. Moreover, governments around the world, especially the U.S., spend vast sums to induce young people to join the military, or even require them to do so.
Nature itself has purpose - it doesn’t need a divinity to impose it from the outside. That God, made in the image of the human engineer, is retiring. The new God doesn’t impose intelligence onto a lifeless mechanism of a universe. The new God is the intelligence of a living, sacred universe.
The environment creates organisms for its purposes, as much as organisms alter the environment for theirs. The parts create the whole, and the whole creates the parts.
Anderson demolishes the myth that hunter-gatherer people were mere occupants of pristine ‘nature’, demonstrating their deliberate, sustained influence on the composition of biotopes and species in their territory.
According to the elders Anderson interviewed, ‘wilderness’ was not a positive concept in Native culture; it meant land that was not well tended, land in which human beings were not exercising their duty to protect, enhance, and develop life.
Tending the Wild suggests a different vision, freeing us from the perceptions with which industrial society has imbued us. Instead of zero impact, it suggests positive impact. Instead of leave no trace, it suggests ‘leave a beautiful trace’ or ‘leave a healing trace.’
Chapter 9: Energy, Population and Development
The ecological crisis is supposed to be the wake-up call, not a challenge to overcome to stay on our current course.
What is most significant is that which both sides accept without question. The energy debate takes for granted that it would benefit humanity to continue using a lot of energy (provided it can be done sustainably).
It takes for granted that human well-being has progressed thanks to increasing energy consumption, which has freed us from toil and allowed each person to benefit from the equivalent of the labor power of thousands of people.
What appears to us to be futuristic depends on our conception of the future, which reflects present-day conditions and thinking much more than the actual future. If human progress means progress in dominating nature, then it depends on ever-increasing energy sources.
Shifting from domination to participation, we understand that we can improve life by cooperating with natural processes, not overcoming them.
Regenerative agriculture is not more energy-intensive than chemical-dependent agriculture; it is less. Close knit communities and extended families are not more energy-intensive than the single-family home; they are less.
Many who achieve the American Dream - a dwindling prospect - ”discover it to be the American Nightmare. I live in a country where nearly one in five people takes psychiatric medication for depression and anxiety, where suicide and addiction are at historic levels, where a third of all children suffer abuse, where half of marriages end in divorce. These afflictions transcend race and class. Neither privilege nor success is proof against them.
Many are already choosing it, as best they can within an existing social and economic matrix that is hostile to it. I don’t hear anyone saying, “I left corporate America and took a permaculture design course because I had no choice.”
There is good explanation for that: Our economic system requires endless growth. Therefore, to choose from qualitative instead of quantitative values, we will need a radically different economic system. We are not talking merely about personal choices here; we also need to change the conditions from which people choose.
How do you want to develop? Which future is closest to your aspirations: a giant flat-screen TV and a robotic housecleaning system in a five-thousand-square-foot house with a three-car garage, accessible by your own private helicopter? Or a small house of natural materials in sacred geometric proportions, ringed by gardens bursting with life, busy with birds, linked to other dwellings by footpaths in a community of people you care about deeply? You’re not the only one! Do you want to ‘develop’ your consciousness, your sensitivity to subtle energies, your familiarity with local plants and animals, your emotional intelligence, and the authenticity of your relationships?
Switching fuels will not alter the deep preconditions for human misery and ecological devastation on this earth.
Abundance is a state of mind and a function of social relationships. Technology is but its tool. We could have abundance right now, with no new technology, if we rid ourselves of various systems of artificial scarcity, epitomised by the artificial scarcity of money.
Food too exists in theoretical superabundance on earth, yet it is so unequally distributed that nearly half goes to waste while one in five children goes hungry.
Distributed energy is part of a larger trend of re-localization, which is necessary to bring us back into intimate relationship with the soil, water, biota, and culture of place.
What humanity creates depends on the vision that inspires us and on the story that imbues action with meaning.
One of them is resource consumption. If everyone consumed resources at the rate of an average North American, the sustainable world population would be about 1.5 billion. If everyone lived the lifestyle of an average Guatemalan, the present population would be sustainable. And if everyone lived as ecologically as a traditional Indian villager, the planet could sustain 15 billion people or even more.
Critiques of population control fall into two general categories: techno-utopian and post-colonial.
- The techno-utopian critique rejects any limits on the ascendancy of the human race. It says that rising population is not a problem for the planet because the more people there are, the more innovation will come to bear on solving our problems.
- The women’s empowerment rationale for population control policies therefore buys in to a normative Western conception of what life should look like. It takes for granted that these societies should become more like our own. That is the essence of ‘development.’
Accustomed as our society is to war thinking, it is no wonder that the solution to population growth is birth control. Problem: population; reason: too many babies; solution: prevent babies from being born.
Chapter 10: Money and Debt
Musical Chairs is closely congruent to our current economic system.
Because money in our system is lent into existence, and because those loans carry interest, at any given moment there is always more debt than there is money. Just as in Musical Chairs, everyone is therefore set into competition with each other for never enough money.
In fact, when the initial loans of $1,000 each come due, nearly everyone can pay them back. Why? Because in the interim, the bank has lent that additional $1,000 per person into existence - another $1 million in total debt. (The money isn’t lent out evenly, though. It goes only to those who the bank thinks will pay it back with interest.) As long as new money is continually created (lent into existence), the system can keep running.
Is our economy a giant Ponzi scheme?
To forestall depression, economic growth must never end.
Without new money constantly being created, the means to service the debts is diminished, resulting in bankruptcies, unemployment, concentration of wealth, and the need for austerity to temporarily service the debts when rising income cannot.
Economic growth means the growth in goods and services exchanged for money. Therefore, a remote village in India or a traditional tribal area in Brazil presents a big growth opportunity, because the people there barely pay for anything.
It accompanies an ideology that says that money equates with well-being, that development along the model of the West is a good thing (or an inevitable thing), that a high-tech life is superior to a life close to nature.
The ideology of development has a justification in classical economics that says that the outsourcing of various life functions to specialists, aided by technology and mass production, allows human needs to be met more efficiently.
Economics assumes that more money equals more happiness; that the more goods we can buy, the more ‘good’ life is. This logic is valid only to the extent that human needs and desires can be met by things that can be quantified, bought, and sold.
What we call development has cut us off from real wealth. It has distanced us from place, from people, from other-than-human beings, replacing those relationships with standardised, mediated relationships.
The deemphasis of the measurable corresponds to the transition away from the conversion of nature into commodities. It allows us to see the beings of nature, the ecosystems and species, as sacred beings in their own right.
In both economics and ecology, we need to shift to values that cannot easily be measured.
Ultimately, that is where the money comes from: it comes from investment credit extended to whoever will create new goods and services. Those firms hire employees who will help them achieve that goal. If your goal is at odds with that - if your goal is not to help turn nature into products and community into services - then you are going to have a hard time finding a job, because generally speaking, that’s where the money comes from.
Our system depends on growth to function, yet infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet.
Elements of an Ecological Economy:
- Debt Cancellation
A debt strike (refusal to make payments on debt) by an organised minority of debtors (individuals and nations) would quickly bring the system to its knees, since it is already so highly leveraged.
- Negative-interest money
An interest-based system is profoundly un-ecological. It attaches a world that is cyclic to a token of value that grows exponentially.
The way to apply this idea is through a liquidity fee on bank reserves. Basically that means if a bank keeps excess reserves and doesn’t lend them, those reserves shrink by a rate of perhaps 5 percent a year.
In that context, banks would have an incentive to lend at zero interest or even less.
A break-even business that would never have to expand its revenues to meet interest payments would be a viable investment.
A negative-interest rate system:
- Allows money to circulate in the absence of growth
- Reverses the concentration of wealth that the present system encourages
- Shifts taxation away from income and sales, toward money itself (and other rent-generating property such as land)
- Offers debt relief without bringing down the whole system and ruining small savers
- Aligns money with the spiritual principle of impermanence and the ecological law of return
- Reverses the discounting of future cash flows, discouraging the liquidation of irreplaceable natural capital
The nature of capitalism depends on the nature of capital. And the nature of capital - in particular, who owns it and what they can do with it - depends on social agreements that are not black and white, but admit many shades and variations. Negative interest turns capitalism upside down.
Now it is starting to seem similarly wrong to own land. We can be its steward, its caretaker, its partner, its ally, even its servant .. but its owner? How dare we?
- Internalisation of Ecological Costs.
Green taxes and cap-and-trade schemes for pollution rights seek to internalise these costs and align the best business decision with the best ecological decision.
- Universal Basic Income
The right says that without being forced to work for a living, most people would cease to contribute to society.
The Marxist left says that UBI preserves the basic structure of capitalism (private ownership of the means of production).
It is that people have a compelling desire to contribute meaningfully to the well-being of society and the planet, but that the pressure to earn a living prevents them from doing so.
Chapter 11: An Affair of The Heart
Science in our culture is more than a system of knowledge production or a method of inquiry. So deeply embedded it is in our understanding of what is real and how the world works, that we might call it the religion of our civilisation.
Like most religious formulae for the attainment of truth, rests on a priori metaphysical assumptions that we must indeed accept on faith.
First among them is objectivity, which assumes among other things that the formulation and testing of hypotheses don’t alter the reality in which the experiments take place.
- That anything real can in principle be measured and quantified
- That everything that happens does so because it is caused to happen (in the sense of Aristotelian efficient cause)
- That the basic building blocks of matter are generic - for instance, that any two electrons are identical
- That nature can be described by invariant mathematical laws
We might ask “What are the limitations of the kinds of technology that are available from within this worldview?” and “What other religion - systems of metaphysics, perception, and technology - might be born of the current crisis and needed to address it?” We also might inquire as to what science might become if we abandon some of its metaphysical assumptions.
The spiritual essence of the religion of science is the opposite of its institutional arrogance: the Scientific Method embodies a deep and beautiful humility. It says, “I do not know, so I shall ask.”
Francis Bacon conceived the experimental method as an interrogation of nature, even a rape of nature, forcibly penetrating to her deepest mysteries. How might it change if we conceive it as a conversation, not an interrogation; a lovemaking and not a rape?
Science has trained us to:
- To see the world as a bunch of insentient things.
- To make decisions “rationally” that is, based on utilitarian calculations.
- To see the observer as independent from the observed.
- To see nature as an object of manipulation and control.
- To ignore the immeasurable and qualitative (spirit, beauty, sacredness, etc.)
- To think in mechanistic rather than organic terms
When we say, “Trust the scientific consensus on climate change” we are also implying:
- Trust the social processes by which this consensus is formed.
- Trust the other things about which a scientific consensus is declared.
- Trust the basic approach to knowledge that science represents.
- Trust the tacit metaphysical and ontological assumptions that underpin science.
- Trust other institutions that draw their legitimacy from science.
- Trust the power of scientific technologies to solve our problems.
In various ways, all of these things we have trusted have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the ongoing devastation of the biosphere. This presents the more radical environmentalist with a conundrum when invoking science in the fight against climate change, because it requires a buy-in to the very same systems of intellectual authority that have long presided over and defended our eco-cidal system.
The key to our salvation lies beyond what science currently offers - it lies in facing the world as a living being, a sacred being, and a beloved being. From that place, technologies and practices emerge far beyond what science thinks is possible today. The astonishing results of regenerative agriculture are just a taste of what can happen when we think, “Land, I know you want to heal. Please tell me how to serve you. Land, I know you want to give. Please tell me how to serve you. Land, I know you want to fulfill your highest purpose. Please tell me how to serve you.”
Granting subjectivity and agency to nature and everything in it does not mean to grant human subjectivity and human agency, making them into storybook versions of us.
Materialism, however, isn’t what it used to be. Science is evolving, recognizing that nature is composed of interdependent systems within systems within systems, just as a human body is; that soil mycorrhizal networks are as complex as brain tissue; that water can carry information and structure; that the earth and even the sun maintain homeostatic balance just as a body does. We are learning that order, complexity, and organization are fundamental properties of matter, mediated through physical processes that we recognize - and perhaps by others we do not.
One reason is that from the mechanistic perspective we cannot fully understand the needs of land, ocean, soil, water, or forest, just as I could not fully serve my son’s needs if I saw him as a biomechanical robot merely requiring precise inputs of various substances.
The reanimation of our world is crucial to ecological healing. If we live in the perception that the world is dead, we will inevitably kill what is alive.
Chapter 12: Bridge to a Living World
All of the policies and practices I have described are within reach right now. The vision of a Green World is not fantasy; nor, however, is it realistic. What it is, is possible. It requires each one of us to dedicate ourselves, unreasonably and with no guarantee of success, to our unique form of service.