It’s not an uncommon speculation these days: wouldn’t the world be much better off if human beings just disappeared one day in a puff of smoke?
Seemingly intractable conflicts, impoverished communities, runaway viruses, marine dead zones, corrupt leaders, depleted aquifers, crises of financial systems and of the climate … there seems to be no end to the mess we’ve made of every life-sustaining system under the sun.
Planet Earth – how to thrive
While every other organism on Earth appears to know its place in the web of life, we are the only ones who don’t seem to have read the Earthlings’ Manual on How to Thrive:
- Principle number one: everything is connected … and no, you are not actually independent or separate;
- Principle number two: everything cycles … and no, the Universe is not linear and hoarding isn’t cool;
- Principle number three: cooperation rules … and no, competition is not the only game in town.
SAFCEI’s recent workshop on Sacred Economics facilitated by Charles Eisenstein was an opportunity to take a quizzical look at many of the assumptions upon which we have built the now crumbling edifice of the dominant global ‘civilisation’.
In a financial system that creates money out of debt, growth can only continue while there are so-called ‘resources’ to exploit and ‘under-developed’ (or self-reliant) communities to transform into consumers. As we scratch the bottom of the barrel for toothfish and shale gas, and as the scramble for markets drags small-scale farmers into debt and into ghettos, so we inch ever closer to being consumed by the cancer of our own consumerism.
As I write this, a newsletter arrives from WWF. It tells me that Earth Overshoot Day was marked on 19 August this year. For the rest of 2014 we are living beyond the planet’s means. We truly are in debt.
A social system built on individualism and competition becomes fraught with loneliness, comparison and fear. Our shrinking family units can no longer rely on extended family or community support. It’s every person for themselves. The fear that nobody really cares enough to be there for us when we are in need, demands that we spend ever-more hours at the office so that we can afford to insure ourselves against every imaginable risk.
Our reluctance to share requires that each suburban garden shed houses its own lawnmower. And in order that our children are able to out-compete the opposition and one day also insure themselves against every eventuality, we work even harder to give them the best education credit can buy.
And so we find ourselves nearing the end of another 5,000-year cycle of civilisation.
A new and ancient story
Charles Eisenstein is a story-teller. More than that, he is story advocate. Leaving his workshop, I felt the need to start co-creating with those who also sense the urgency, the chapters of a new story; a story that can inspire and enable us to live and thrive together with all of Creation.
This story is not altogether new. Many traditional and intentional communities, ecologists, permaculture practitioners, transition-towners, grandparents and good neighbours are already living the experiment. There are many whose everyday lives reflect the principles of connectedness, cycles, and cooperation.
Alert to the language of complicity
Charles alerted us to the fact that, even within the environmental movement, our language and behaviour belie how deeply we remain embedded within the tired old story of separation. Perhaps we don’t believe that we will be heard unless we translate our deepest longings into the language of commerce.
So we speak of ‘natural resources’ and ‘natural capital’, as if nature were simply a source of materials and experiences to be extracted and consumed. We desperately seek an economic justification for nature, unwittingly buying in to the myth that ‘if it pays, it stays.’
And our belief that we are somehow separate from, and superior to, the rest of nature paves the way for a managerial relationship between us. We are in charge, and we know what’s needed.
We are not separate
If we think of ourselves as separate and in charge, then the idea that the earth would be better off without us makes sense. We’ve failed in our responsibilities to Earth’s shareholders, so let’s de-list from the stock exchange, fire the board, and retrench the management team.
But we are not separate. We are an integral part of the Earth system.
Perhaps, after centuries of believing in the myth of rational materialism, we have simply forgotten what all our ancestors once knew: that the Earth is sacred, and that we, like the rest of the Earth community, are ensouled.
We may feel that we have lost the facility to engage humbly with the rest of the Earth community, but this is only temporary. We can all ‘return to our senses’ and, through closely observing nature’s lawfulness, remember how to listen, learn and live.
What is our gift to the Earth?
A natural ecosystem exists by virtue of the reciprocal relationships between its members. This is what allows systems to flourish and remain relatively stable over long periods of time.
As human beings, we have seen ourselves for far too long as standing triumphantly at the pinnacle of the ecological pyramid. All of nature has lain at our feet. The arrows representing matter and energy have all pointed upwards. Our appetites have been insatiable.
But what have we really given in return?
When I hear people exclaim that it would be better for nature if humans were no more, I wonder. If we did all disappear, what would the rest of Nature miss?
Certainly, the Earth does not need us to garden, to neaten and tend her incomparable beauty. There is no garden more ravishing than the wild. And she does not need us to tame, domesticate or ‘improve’ her. Those are our fantasies.
I do believe, though, that were we all to disappear Nature would yearn for what are (possibly) our unique human gifts of witnessing, appreciating, loving, and standing in awe of her.
I believe that Nature would feel bereft were we no longer present to witness the rising sun; were spring to pass without deep appreciation being given for the flowers of the field; were human hearts no longer to beat their coherent vibrations of love and compassion; and were we no longer to stand in awe of what we identify as Nature’s power and magnificence.
And so, on the material level, perhaps we have very little to offer the more-than-human world, beyond trying to tidy up the mess that we have created. But what if we could admit that we are not in charge – that in fact we have no clue how to go on from here – and offer to Nature that which is most deeply human about us: our humility, our creativity, and our love?
Image from: http://summerofpeace.net/spirituality-peace/
 SAFCEI – the Southern African Faith Communities Environmental Institute
 Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s footprint in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate. The date is moving progressively earlier from 1 October in 2000 to 19 August this year. http://www.wwf.org.za/media_room/news/?11662/Earth-Overshoot-Day-2014