What Do We Do When the Whole World Feels Like its Falling to Pieces?

In this blog I focus on plants.  Any gardener, botanist or horticulturist knows that plants, all living organisms, live in an incredibly complex, interwoven network of systems, each affecting the others, the health of anyone, in large part determined by the health of the ‘whole’.  Life does not and cannot exist in a vacuum.  We humans are also very much living organisms and subject to the same kind of limits as any species.  What we build and produce, including those more abstract things like our social and economic systems upon which we are very much dependent, are subject to the same natural laws and limits, whether we recognize them or not.  Very much a part of this is how we value other life collectively.  Just because many may say other people and species are of less value, does not make this fact.  The laws and ways of ‘man’ must remain within, and consistent with, the laws of nature.  We are not at liberty to treat other life as expendable.  We owe a debt and responsibility to all life.  Life permits and supports us so it is incumbent upon us to do the same for it.  Such is the natural law of reciprocity.
Today we as a species are operating amidst a series of crises, a pandemic, species extinctions, climate change, a looming economic collapse, a world that seems to be disintegrating into violence, a human world characterized more by threat and distrust than compassion and love, of religious intolerance.  Crises confront us from every direction, frustrating and confusing us…and we fail to see the links between them much as we fail to see the links between each other.   We double down and work harder and feel even less secure than before.  Our leaders offer programs and promises that solve nothing, spending money and time for nought…they are as blind as us, willful or simply ignorant.  They squabble and the danger grows larger as even simple agreement on what the problem may be eludes them or sends them into bickering finger pointing.  The only thing clear, our ‘leaders’ are telling us, is that ‘they’ are the problem, the blurry ill-defined others.  Our problems are many they argue, and separate, unrelated and must be solved singularly, if at all.  There is a grimness that many of them offer us, a world and future of shortage and violence, of us against them, an insistence that our basic ideas of the world are still intact, that all we must do is regain control, invoke ‘law and order’. 

Our leaders can’t even agree to disagree.  Communication at the highest levels is non-existent. Lines have been drawn and blind insistence predominates.  What gets lost in all of this polarized political blaming is any idea that there is a singular truth.  That truth lies with that which we choose to value and our values are in conflict.  Agreement on anything would seem impossible including the need for taking action.  Some seem to take a fatalist position on this while others are more complacent putting their unfounded confidence in technology, it will be ‘cavalry’, riding in to save us in the last moment in a ‘Hollywood’ finish…the sky  is yet to fall.  Then there are those who simply make science defying pronouncements as if the issue was just a matter of opinion and seek only to take control, insisting that life is hard and ugly, that we must take control, sacrifice others before they do us….So we and our economy continue down the same path.  Often, even science seems at a loss as to what we should do each focusing and limiting itself and comments to its narrow field of expertise while those who study complex systems are still mostly ignored or unheard. What is all but forgotten in this is life itself, not yours or mine, but ours, the larger ‘ours’, the idea that life is of ultimate value, a value by which all others should be measured and with this loss the world crumbles around us.

These people who see the need to control, repress, even sacrifice others, fail to understand that we live in a world of consequence, fail to see how everything is linked as they cling to their old model of the world, with blind insistence.  But our problems today, as they have always been, are linked, our actions have always had consequences and they all feed back into each other in never ending loops, that effect both the very natural systems and cycles that support and perpetuate life on this planet, as they also do those human built systems of economics, government and the social institutions into which we have knit our lives together.  Each effects the others. 

Our economy has demanded that we burn fossil fuels in ever increasing amounts, which releases more carbon into the atmosphere and oceans, warming the atmosphere, which alters weather patterns and ocean currents, which changes the conditions for agriculture and marine life, which create food shortages, which puts our health at risk driving people out in the streets demanding help, which brings a response to regain control, which brings with it violence which in turn fuels more violence.  The diminishing levels of available and economically utilizable fuel, results in a propping up of the economy by public debt, which brings demands for austerity and cuts of support to those upon who’s backs the debt is laid, to keep the economy going, expanding.  At no time is there a clear call for economic reform, for redirecting our economy in a manner directly supportive of life….We get only blind insistence that the global free market, the invisible hand of capitalism, must be ‘freed’ from constricting  regulation, regulation that, according to them, prevents the good decisions, which would presumably and magically solve all human problems.  More binding ‘rules’ are stripped away and the natural systems and cycles upon which we all depend are put under further stress.  Such an economy has not made ‘better’ decisions, but has only accelerated the assault on life and its decline.  Species are lost, to fuel population and economic growth in a kind accelerating ‘cannibalism’ that we cannot survive.  Our own human built political and economic systems continue demanding this and our access to good information, information upon which we could make better, life supporting decisions, becomes ever more limited by those who fear or reject a more humane economy.  An ‘impossibility’ that they refuse to consider.

Any human driven economy, is dependent upon the throughput of energy.  Without energy, human, animal, solar, mechanical, electrical, petroleum or nuclear, no work can be accomplished, no products or services delivered.   Every organism has a particular metabolism, which when provided for with the nutrients and energy that it needs, powers and maintains every individual organism.  Our ‘economy’ is in a very real sense, society’s ‘metabolism’, that which drives and maintains it, without which would quickly follow societal collapse.  But our social economy is not separate from that which drives life on this planet.  It cannot be.  In a parallel sense the world and all of its countless organisms, including us, play undeniable roles in cycling the energy through it systems in support of life on this planet.  Life is driven by the power of the sun…all life.  Yet, as we go about our economic lives, earning our living and making our way, we turn more often to the fixed and limited energy contained in carbon fuels, produced and sequestered millions of years ago.  In a very real sense this is not our energy.  It is part of a process in place for nearly 4 billion years which created the particular blend of conditions here right now that makes our lives possible.  Once lying dormant buried in the earth, we burn these releasing carbon compounds and heat trapped in organic molecules, now free to interact in today’s world…a ‘mad’ rush of carbon burned and consumed in a period equivalent to about .0016% of the 60 million years it took to accumulate them 300 to 360 million years ago.  This carbon, now in the form of CO2, adds to the atmosphere’s insulative capacity or is dissolved in the oceans acidifying them.  This changes the basic operating conditions of the earth pushing us and other organisms into potentially non-survivable living conditions, changing the flow of energy across the earth’s surface through altered weather patterns and changes of oceanic currents as the warming world works to dissipate the excess, the warmer more energized air drawing up more water in its rush creating the conditions for more violent storms while polar and glacial ice melt flooding low elevation areas including coastal plains and small islands.  At the same time equatorial regions are expected to become more arid exacerbating the existing pattern of the Intertropical Convergence Zone the hotter temperature drawing moisture from the larger landmasses and carrying it further toward the poles….This is all playing out in the world today, the melting ice, the rising seas, the increasing aridity of regions already stressed by limited water and rainfall with drought creating crop failures, collapsing economies creating social unrest and violence. Forgotten in all of this is that any healthy economy is dependent upon the support provided by a healthy world and a healthy world cannot long survive an economy that continuously places its health in a compromising position.

Like any organism our economy requires a steady flow of energy in order to convert materials into useable goods and services.  While economists and experts all argue over definitions and the ‘metrics’ by which we measure and evaluate it, the fact is that oil and gas reserves, which have been powering our economy in large part over the last 100 years, are being depleted.  The world is finite and no one is creating more.  Yet our ever expanding economy, population, expectations and the need for profit, demands it. As we continue to consume ever more the cost of the extraction and processing of carbon based fuels, into useable forms, goes up, costing us not just more dollars, but requiring that we spend more energy to do so.  It is a process of diminishing returns as we tap into ever less ‘available’ fuels.  Less ‘bang for the buck’ and it is inevitable.  As the economy drags down the pressure to continue an expanding economy remains.  In the short run governments become more dependent on utilizing credit, printing money, creating public debt to be borne by the taxpayers to shore up the bottom lines of major players in the economy while social programs come under the knife with demands for austerity.  Profit is then secured, for a while longer at the cost of taxpayers who receive nothing.  This creates social unrest and demands for basic supports and social justice.  When these aren’t met demonstrations begin and with them come calls for law and order from the right.  It can become a vicious cycle.  And all the while that we do this there is a cost exacted from the environment.  Resources consumed, others wasted as pollutants and more and more of the earth’s surface subject to harvest, depletion and ruination, leaving less and less for the vast majority of other species to live upon and, in the process, more difficult for them to make their contribution, however, small, to maintain the life supporting systems upon which all depend.  Our economy has become a ‘cancer’ on the earth that can consume us all.

Today, in other parts of the world, the once oil rich countries of Syria, Iraq, Yeman and Venezuala, are in severe crisis, running out of readily available fuel and gas, their economies are collapsing, making simple survival much more difficult.  Other countries are not too far behin,.  Egypt and Nigeria.  The economic powerhouse nations of India and China teeter on a fragile, severely compromised foundation.  Violence is increasing as governments are no longer able to provide their citizens with the basic necessities of life.  The above mentioned countries are falling victim to climate change in a process which is causing the ‘dry tropics’ of the previous world, to become even more arid as water reserves and rainfall amounts decline, permanently.  China and India have huge human populations, still increasing, while their own energy resources, already inadequate, decline, threatening their economies, their trade balances and their capacities to provide for their people. Some areas of these countries are subject to the flooding that will take over low slung coastal areas and islands, rendering them uninhabitable while water resources literally dry up elsewhere igniting massive migrations of climate and political refugees.  Agriculture is collapsing in these regions.  The price of food, water and necessities is increasing while their abilities to trade disappear with the oil.  America is not immune or above this.  Our current path moves us toward the same future, a future which is already unfolding, but not yet inevitable.  As the basic earth systems are disrupted the geo-political, social systems, economies and governments, will see ever more disruptions and governments will find it ever more difficult to provide what was once considered normal.  War and violence across the globe is becoming ever more common.  Leadership has failed. 

These changes and collapses will happen as we continue to ignore the root problems of unchecked economic growth, of unchecked expectation and consumerism, which deny the real limits on water, oil and mineral resources.  This will lead to more violence as governments and the wealthy scramble to hang on to what is ‘theirs’ and right wing groups rally against others who are simply attempting to survive.  Refugees join the immigrants and minorities, who have been identified by right wing groups, as threats to their own security and well being.  This is classic misdirection.  The minorities, immigrants and refugees are not the cause, but are rather the early victims of this systemic collapse.  The refugees are created by our voracious economy and our own demands for an increasing share of the oil, water and resources that remain…which ultimately don’t really belong to us at all.  We take these things and deny or blame others for climate change, but ultimately blame will matter little in the end in a devastated and reduced world.  The argument can be made that the scraps and volatile world that we’ve created never belonged to us anyway, contrary to whatever lawyers, titles and deeds may claim.  In our denial of life’s value through the worlds economic conversion we are stripping it of any real value of all.  We are in a downward race to the ‘last man standing’. 

Economies are now and will continue to fail…unless we begin seriously addressing the direct links between these, restructure our economies and begin utilizing earth’s resources in a pattern that is sustainable by the earth’s own natural cycles.  We need to radically shift course away from consumptive economic models, which view growth as not only desirable, but as a necessity.  We need to decide what is really essential and how we can meet those needs in ways that are not only less disruptive, but which ultimately are healing, humane, just and restorative, so that the earth’s cycles, upon which ours and every other life, depends can begin to heal and stabilize.  We and the earth cannot survive in a world where rigid thinking, fear and greed predominate.  We must begin to make the connections.

Want to educate yourself on what is going on with our worldwide systems collapses? The article I link to here is a very good place to start. We’ve all heard the statement, ‘adapt or die’. What is happening in the world economy, the environment, the political instability, threats to food supply and personal security, is the result of us refusing to look at what we have gotten wrong and our insistence to continue down its path. We are arguably at a tipping point, and it is essential the we ‘arrest’ our fall before we get much farther along the decline, the result of a population and leaders who have refused to acknowledge the inter-relatedness of all of these problems. Conscious and aware steps can bring about a paradigm shift, put us on a ‘new’ path, one supportive of life, that recognizes its value. Denial of this simple, even biological fact, will only assure a quicker collapse. We have options available now. We better start utilizing them.

Read the article and check out the links to Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed’s longer examination of the issue – Failing States, Collapsing Systems: Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence.  The full text, 94 pages plus notes, is available on the Academia website or can be bought from its publisher ‘Springer’.  Find this.  Read it.  Send it to your friends and leaders.  If you are having trouble locating it, write to me and I will send it to you as a PDF.

We all know that neither ignorance nor innocence will protects us from such collapses…nor should it. We really only have the one choice to make, change our society to one ‘built’ to support life and health or continue to compromise what is left away and we all suffer.

Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed is an academic and investigative journalist who works as an editor for “INSURGEintelligence” an excellent source for exhaustively researched journalism on many of the problems of our day.  The site and Ahmed look at international problems from a systems perspective understanding that the crises that we collectively faced are in fact intricately linked and can only be solved if we take a wholistic approach, an approach that most business and political leaders are either opposed to or ignorant of as their own interests are tied to the systems leading to these collapses.  We are undergoing what he refers to as Crisis of Civilization, the survival of which is up in the air.  He points out that our news media, what he refers to as the Global Media-Industrial Complex (GMIC), has failed in their public responsibility to present the information that we need to make healthy decisions and take effective action to develop a new, richer and adaptable economy, an economy upon which we can depend and would be compatible with a healthy environment.  Our capacity to adapt to these crises that confront us today is stymied by this lack of information.  Current political and business leaders have failed in doing this.  We desperately need effective leaders to step up.


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