What can be said about our home planet? Trying to describe her breath would be like trying to put into words the very miracle of our own ability to strip oxygen from the air around us. The miraculous nearly defies description. Science tells us that we are in symbiosis with over half the life on Earth, those plants who use sunlight to change carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into carbohydrates. Oddly enough, their “waste” oxygen is vital to our own existence. Understanding the carbon budget in Earth’s atmosphere is rather like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. The best thing about our limited understanding of Earth’s breath is felt rather than understood. Those of us who have drunk in the scent of a highland meadow or been enriched by the scents wafting through a fern carpeted glen know that the million overtones that air can bring to our lungs are every bit as important as the single bullet of oxygen needed to sustain our lives. Souls are either enriched or assaulted by the very air we breathe. Natural systems work their magic in an attempt to purify and enrich this vital fluid, but under assault from many of our undertakings, the availability of fresh and clean air is growing ever more scarce. Luckily, there are still a few places on the planet that we can find relatively clean air, but the movement of contaminated air masses around the planet make us ever more aware that human activities must change if we are to ever live in harmony with Earth’s systems.
The beating heart of the planet may be the hydrologic cycle, you know the schematic diagram that we all saw in grade school. Water vapor evaporates from the oceans, rises in the atmosphere and is cooled, condensing and falling to Earth as rain. The energy that liberates the vapor comes from the sun, so in essence, the true heart is seven minutes away in light years. Can we come to terms with the fact that we are but observers in this process? In my own experience, the humility and reverence I have always felt in relation to Mother Earth seemed an essential part of my understanding of all life on the planet. As far back as I can remember I wondered at the ability of human-kind to turn away from fact and reason, holding so tightly to the illusion that we could ever be “in control” of Earth’s systems. we are beneficiaries, but the investments are beyond our comprehension, made by abundant resources beyond all imagining. Our own activities frequently reflect a complete ignorance of the processes that lead to our very survival on this rock in space we call Earth. Just as we rush to poison the very air we breathe, our waters are defiled with sickening regularity. Virtually any citizen of our great country can walk down to the nearest waterway and be assured that they cannot drink from it. In fact, the very touching of the water in many areas can cause illness, especially when temperatures rise and bacteria counts run high. No American should have to travel long distances to swim when the weather gets hot, or rely on chlorine to sterilize water that they sequester in pools for our enjoyment. Our ancestors found clear running streams from one coast to the other when they came to this land. What we have done since has rendered most of them unfit for use, especially where we choose to make our “living”.
Understanding that we are now burdening the earth in ways and to an extent never before seen in history begins by looking right beneath our very feet. There are those who live nearly their entire life on asphalt and concrete, never even touching healthy soils. The Earth to them is, at best, a far off element that they have heard of, but could not recognize by smell. Just a few short generations ago, most Americans relied on the health of soil for their lifestyles to flourish. Today, we are told, that man is at war against weeds and that there are post-emergent herbicides that can win the battle for “clean fields”. Wielding the power of death over healing herbs and eliminating competition from our selected varieties, however weak and nutrient deficient they may be sounds more like a recipe for disaster than a noble profession. The way farmers have become beholden to the multi-national corporation for their information and genetically altered crops needs to be seriously questioned if not made criminal. The profits made from modern agriculture flow primarily to a tiny number of individuals who never get their hands dirty. while the soil gets poisoned, the plants lose their integrity and diverse natural systems that enhance life are pushed out in favor of monocultures that tip the balance of nature to the breaking point.
We are on the brink of turning the human population counter past seven billion. A researcher talking about this phenomenon quipped that, “We still have plenty of room.” His point was made by saying that if we all stood shoulder to shoulder, we would all fit in side the borders of California. I guess that to do it, we would first have to remove each and every tree, bush, house, mountain, river and lake, but I do not want to question the fact, just the gruesome concept that is ridiculous on the face of it. We, humans, have never had the ability to see the full effect of our interactions with the planet. By it’s nature, the Earth sucks up our wastes and tries to convert them to resources for other life on the planet. Not only the sheer numbers of us threaten the balance of natural systems, but the types and kind of wastes that we continue to spew. Humans have invented the processes by which radioactive wastes can be liberated, some of which threaten life on the planet for tens of thousands of years. We have designed chemicals that nature never intended to exist. We spew these new chemical compounds at will into both air and water daily and in concentrations that can change both the environment and our own quality of life for generations.
We have both the ability and plenty of messages telling us to back away from our dangerous fascination with power and control. Expressing our own power to “subdue” nature is only leading to Mother Earth scratching and shaking a bit more. Acting as if we could ever control Her defies reality. Either we learn to keep our hands and feet inside the ride at all times, or we must squarely face the reality of our own actions. Ultimately, freedom always comes with a healthy dose of responsibility. As long as we continue to participate in systems that not only allow some to benefit from the freedom to defile nature, but to be subsidized while assaulting the environment, we will have to put up with the results of their actions. When we hold those who would abuse the planet for their benefit responsible for their behavior, we will begin to restore the balance between ourselves and the planet. We can make changes in our own lives that restore balance but in time even our institutions will need to get with the program if we are to right the ship of state.