We are all looking at the end of the world as we know it. Our attention is focused on the holes in the ozone layer, planet warming, peak oil, the spread of DU weapons, the collapse of the house of credit cards, and the prospect of the planetary financial elite quickly establishing fascist control of the planet. Below this threshold of conscious awareness our biological survival systems are rapidly eroding. At this point some twenty percent of the planet’s soils erode each twenty-five year period. Each year at least two hundred thousand acres of irrigated crop-lands go out of production because of salinization or water-logging and experts say that sixty to eighty percent of all irrigated acreage is due to follow the eight to ten million acres that have historically gone into ruination from irrigation. The total drylands of the planet are 7.9 billion acres of which 61% are desertified, that is, driven by human abuse toward uselessness. Globally, 23% of all arable crop lands have been lost since 1945 through human use and experts say that all arable land on the planet will be ruined in 200 years.
It is estimated that prior to the human culture that we term civilization, one third of the planet was covered with closed canopy forest. Now forests cover 10% of the earth. In the oceans the collapse of major fish stocks is increasing. At least eight stocks have collapsed beginning with the Antarctic Blue Whale in 1935 to the Peruvian Anchovy stock collapse in the late twentieth century. Since 1984 the world fish catch has been shrinking even with greater investment and the taking of what in former times were considered “trash” fish. Of the 32 ocean fisheries, 30 are in decline and some of those are collapsing. At the same time coral reefs and mangrove swamps which are considered the “incubators” of sea life are dwindling precipitously.
Soil is the basis of the planetary terrestrial life. In the best of circumstances such as old growth forests and prairies, soil builds at the rate of one inch each three hundred to a thousand years. It is being exhausted and is eroding away. The way that the industrial system has continued to increase the food supply is by trading off soil fertility for fossil fuel energy through artificial fertilizers. Now, nearly half of the world’s people eat because of the added production of food caused by artificial fertilizers being injected into depleted soils and the use of all of the other accouterments of fossil- fueled industrial agriculture.. Half of the planetary population are hanging out on a limb essentially eating petroleum! Now as the population continues to explode we reach peak oil and its decline. We do not need to continue filling in the details. Our intellect can draw the conclusion for us. An exponentially exploding world population with increasing material consumption, based on dwindling resources and a dying planet, won’t work!
But this is not a new phenomenon as some would assume. This culture of civilization, of empire, was an ecological catastrophe when it began some eight thousand years ago. It is this culture and its inculcated reality-view that is the disaster. Half of China was once a great temperate zone forest. That forest was gone before recorded history, destroyed by the Han Chinese Empire. The Indus River Valley Empire had ecologically destroyed its habitat before recorded history. We do have recorded history of the Sumerian and Babylonian empires. We know they decimated the forests and overgrazed the landscape. One third of the land in Iraq that should be arable right now is still so salinized from imperial irrigation four and five thousand years ago that it cannot be used. The erosion material coming down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers from that destroyed watershed has filled in 185 miles of the gulf. As we follow the history of this type of human culture we find the Mid-East ecologically denuded. The empires of Greece and Rome used Turkey and North Africa as “breadbaskets.” Now, there are towns in Turkey, North Africa and even in Italy that were port cities during those empires which are now ten and fifteen miles from the water - all filled in with erosion material from the ecologically destroyed landscapes. Then we go on to the destruction of the great forests of Europe and now the whole world. These examples and many more are indelible effects on the world ecosystem which have not recovered in thousands of years.
Are humans a failed species? Is it what some Natives Americans have said, “very shrewd but no wisdom?” When we look around the biosphere we see that most other species devote much of their life energies to birthing, raising and protecting their progeny. In this respect, civilized humans are a failed species. They can’t even keep the planet alive for their descendants. But humans have been a marvelously successful species. For several million years we existed as forager/hunters. We lived in balance with the ecosystem, migrating in our traditional patterns around our areas gathering the fruits of the earth. We were adapted to the planetary life. We developed astonishing oral literatures, we developed a rich cultural life. Anthropology says that each forager/hunter worked an average of 500 hours per year obtaining the necessaries of life. Traditional agriculturalists like the Hopi or Balinese worked 1,000 hours per year and had shorter life spans. Now the modern industrial person works 2,000 hours per year on average and only stay alive because they have health insurance. Anthropology says that the forager/hunters (even those still remaining) have almost perfect health.
They also had a rich culture. They didn’t simply sit around the campfire but created voluminous oral literature, great works of art as handcrafts and a rich ceremonial life of the tribe. Our species lived with the living earth. We had wide knowledge of the living things around us and we respected life. Such a grotesque event as killing thousands of buffalo simply to take their tongues or hides away to market and to leave the carcasses to rot were an act that was inconceivably inhuman in the eyes of a forager/hunter.
Our ancestors were well fed with a widely varied diet. Anthropologists studying the !Kung Bushmen of the inhospitable Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa say that each person’s daily protein intake was more than Britain and exceeded by only ten industrial countries. The proportion of men and women over sixty was only ten percent smaller than industrial countries. Forager/hunters who lived in more luxurious ecosystems did even better. This means that most of the people of the third world and the poor of the first world do not even have the living standards of the !Kung Bushmen and for eight thousand years, all of those who did breast beating about the superiority of “civilization” did not even come up to the living standards of free living forager/hunters - talk about being sold a bill of goods!
For 99% of the time our species has lived successfully in balance with the energy flows of the earth. The soil community with its millions of inhabitants provides a milieu in which plant roots can absorb nutrients that are in solution. The plant community sheds leaves and other organic debris onto the soil which feeds it as it is eaten by the “decomposers.” This cycling of biological energy is then extrapolated to the cycles of life of all the other biological entities of the ecosystem through the food chains and other services species do for each other in what is an energy flow system with photosynthesis as the primary motor. This is the energy flow system that our species was adapted to for an untold period of time. Being a small nomadic group (average of 28 people according to anthropology) we had a cooperative culture, a sharing culture and being migratory we only carried necessary items so that materialism, the accumulation and adulation of material goods, did not occur.
Then in Central Asia and Northern China, humans began to destroy the living planet with agriculture and herding. The military based empires began to grow by running a net deficit of the earth’s fertility - a human culture based in looting, thievery. This culture began then, in just an eye blink of time, just eight to ten thousand years, and the energy adaptation changed. Humans began civis, towns, the root of the word civilization. Male dominance - patriarchy, the horse and militarism became rooted in the soil, to grow based on sucking out the fertility of the earth. This culture was, in its origin, a culture of coercion based upon biological slaves such as annual plants and domesticated animals and human slaves, in order to extort fertility from the earth. The ecological history of empire is there for all to see. We no longer gather the fruits of the earth, we force the earth to give up surpluses, profits, until the earth can no longer, then we move on. This is the culture of empire, a culture of growth and imbalance. Its main tenets are patriarchy, hierarchy, materialism, and militarism. The configuration of the imperial system is: an Emperor (male), surrounded by a small financial/military elite, who control and profit from a coercive hierarchal command system. That is, they feed off the productive social activities of the people in society!
Now we are near the end. The culture of empire has spread over the earth except for a few pockets of remaining forager/hunters. As the exploding population meets the dwindling resources, societies begin to unravel. We are beginning to see massive cities around the planet, each encircled by millions of the poor. These people are still fed by the dwindling acres but the breaking point is in sight.
The human species is faced with an ultimate. Will the species die off or can a rabbit be pulled out of the hat over the long term? Inasmuch as humans live from other living things, we know that whatever humans may exist in two hundred years will be humans that have been able to keep their area of the planet alive.
We live in an era in which a number of things are occurring that have never happened to the species before. We live in a time of human caused, mass, global, die off of species. This is the third and largest mass die off of species since life began on earth, the previous (and second) die-off being when the dinosaurs went down millions of years ago. Humans have also caused the ozone holes and the climate warming. But, we also now have planetary communication and through the internet we also have planetary communication available on an individual level. This is the first time that the human species as a whole can communicate. This is also the first time that humans are in control of evolution on this whole planet and the possible further manifestation of themselves. Humans are in control and the choices that they make in the next few generations will determine the course for the future of the species as well as the earth.
Culture is hypnosis. A hypnotic suggestion can be given in deep trance or in light trance, a state of conscious attention such as watching television. In light trance the suggestion is repetitive over time. We have all had a world view suggested to us by our cultural conditioning. For example, we intellectually know that, except for native people, the rest of us in the American hemisphere and many other places on the planet are colonials. But, we don’t subconsciously hold this understanding because of the culturalization. Since birth we have heard of “warlike” Indians. But intellectually we know that any country that is invaded will put up a vigorous response. Intellectually we know that, according to the historian Eduardo Galeano, up to 70 million native people were eliminated from the Americas by sword and pestilence yet we subconsciously view the holocaust of the Jews and Armenians as the only significant massacres.
In this manner our world view is created. The gold fish does not see the water. As our culture instructs us that wealth is security and is the purpose of life, we use up the earth more rapidly toward our demise. On a psychological level we identify with our material possessions and subconsciously assume our existence without these elements would be non-identity. Our needs toward greater ego-security also point toward our demise.
Now that the planet-wide human species, is by default, in control of the life of the earth we can understand what would be needed for the species to succeed to full maturity. The first order is to stay alive. To do that we must maintain that which feeds and shelters us. We must keep the earth alive and ecologically restore it even in the areas of dense human population today. Our reality view is in fact, global now by default. Ozone holes, nuclear radiation, sea level rise, planet heating and the rubbing out of the living flesh of the earth are global phenomena.
Like the Six Nations Iroquois who frame each tribal decision to its effects on the seventh generation, we must create a reality frame as the life of the earth. Given our subconscious conditioning that is difficult, but in this case our intellect can lead us. If we can frame our cultural reality view as based upon the care of the earth and teach that to the children, then many other cultural values will flow from that.
A present day citizen of the earth, if they were a mature and responsible adult would say that honorable actions would perpetuate the living earth for its sake as well as for the progeny of the human species. That commitment at the level of the whole species would signify the initiation of the species to maturity.
The center does not hold.. Oil and the resources of the earth such as soil and forests are exhausting as the mass swells. Can the hero make it through the disintegration? Can small land based, self-sufficient communities make it through, some of them? Can they carry the universal value of life through with their culture? Can they create a culture that will spread in the future that focuses on the highest development of each human as a person rather than the highest rung up the ladder of empire? This is what is being asked of the hero for initiation into human species maturity - nothing less than courage, the adherence to the culture of life over long periods of time and transformation.
All the elements that we need exist. We have examples of alternative buildings, created from local materials, with solar advantages that can heat and cool themselves with no outside energy inputs. We have a world-wide movement to Permaculture which can help us restore ecologies while producing more human food per acre than the industrial system. We have a wide and increasing selection of human development methods which can aid in the development of each individual to their highest potential - outside the materialist paradigm. We have planetary communication through the internet whose maintenance could require few resources.
When the hero can succeed at the matter of keeping the human species and the planet alive and see that as just a “housekeeping” duty, then we can get on with the truly challenging task of creating a positive and joyous human culture to which the hero is entitled.
By William H. Kötke, author of Garden Planet: The Present Phase Change of the Human Species, available at www.gardenplanetbook.com Amazon, Barnes and Noble and retail bookstores. He is also the author of the newly reprinted underground classic, The Final Empire: The Collapse of Civilization and the Seed of the Future, which may be seen at www.thefinalempirebook.com
The Final Empire by William H. Kötke
The Earth Speaks: The Revolution that is Arisingfrom the Earth, an Essay by William H. Kötke
"Anastasia" by Vladimir Megre, a book review by William H. Kötke
A Plan to Save the Life of the Earth Including the Human Being
Russia to be an Ecovillage? by William H. Kötke
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