Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Warning to readers: Reading the following linked article may ruin your day. Be forewarned.
When I read this article this evening, I felt as if I had been kicked in the stomach. A recent longitudinal study in Germany has revealed that the population of flying insects across the study area, which included wildlife preserves across Germany, has declined by 75% in the past 20 years, due to industrial agriculture and pesticides. Rachel Carson's terrifying vision of a "silent spring" seems well on its way to reality. Yet this appalling worldwide crisis gets scant attention from the news media (which is wearily preoccupied with the latest grotesque idiocy, posturing, lying, and boorishness of the Orange Man...)
Insects are the cornerstone of our continental ecosystems, and have been ever since they first co-evolved with land-based plants during the Ordovician period, some 400 million years ago. Flying insects form the diet of countless birds, their grubs contribute enormously to the food chain of topsoil and streams, and they pollinate most of our flowering plants--including most of the food we eat. This precipitous loss of the remaining insect population likely spells doom for humanity, as well as most of the other plants and animals we know. Coupled with current alarming trends in anthropogenic climate disruption (mislabeled "climate change" by Bush-era propagandists in order to cloud the minds of the public by their delusional platitude that "climate always changes"), along with topsoil loss, deforestation, desertification, and collapse of fisheries, we may well be looking at Gaiacide--the murder of the only life-supporting planet we will ever know. But this murder is, of course, suicide as well. Global industrial civilization (or what I call "Glomart"), the Cancer of the Earth, may be in its terminal phase, wherein it consumes and destroys its own support system and perishes, condemning us all to a horrific early death.
Yet as I read this article, my despair increased yet further when I read some of the (perfectly reasonable) policy recommendations at the end, such as "a global treaty to regulate pesticides" and a call for "firm rules" based on environmental assessments, requiring those who use the land to protect and restore ecosystems, and so forth. Perfectly reasonable suggestions--but what is the likelihood that any of these will ever be enacted? Practically zilch--since all the governments and intergovernmental bodies responsible for enacting and enforcing such policies are now totally dominated by powerful corporate interests, who control not only governments, but the global mass media as well, ensuring that the vast majority of the population never suspect that there is anything wrong with pesticides or monocultures, nor that there is any problem with precipitously declining insect populations.
The root of this crisis, which threatens to put an end not only to civilization but to life on Earth as we know it, lie in the money system, for money is just arithmetic, an abstract measure of the marginal value of commodities--the value they have when they are no longer immediately useful to the owner. As a consequence, Glomart--the system we have built based on the global exchange of money--has everything to gain and nothing to lose from turning nature into commodities, as rapidly and efficiently as possible. And those with a vested interest in steadily expanding profits--the global corporations and their stockholders--will never consent to any proposed policy that limits or reduces the profitability of their enterprise or their influence over their consumer base, and will use every means available--corruption of policymakers through intensive lobbying and huge, unregulated campaign contributions; saturating the mass media with pro-corporate propaganda and attack ads aimed at politicians who dare to promote regulation in the public interest; externalization of costs (through pollution); and suppression or falsification of any information from scientists that threatens their profit margins.
Yet the logic of money is diametrically opposed to the inherent logic of healthy ecosystems. While Glomart runs on a logic of maximization--the major premise of the money system that more is always better--all biological systems run on a logic of optimization: enough is enough, for too much or too little of any biological value--from energy input to water supply to population, predator/prey ratio, body temperature, heart rate, or fat content--is toxic to the system.
From this perspective, it is obvious that global industrial society--and especially industrial agriculture, with its dependence on monocultures drenched with topsoil-destroying fertilizers and increasingly toxic pesticides--has become a terminal cancer on the Earth, and that cancer is now going into its final stages, where it is unstoppable even while it clearly destroys its own biological support system. And cancer, as we know, has only two possible outcomes: systemic collapse (death) or spontaneous remission.
All of which leads to the burning question of our time: is spontaneous remission even possible for the cancer of the Earth?
I don't know. The skeptic in me shakes his head and says "fageddaboudit." The odds against it are simply too vast to warrant any hope, given the intensity of our collective addiction to the money game, and the inherent propensity of the money system to concentrate both money and power in fewer and fewer hands, all of whom have ever more to gain from plundering the planet and commandeering its remaining resources, both physical and biological, to turn into commodities for the market as quickly as possible. Regardless of how horrible things get, they will not voluntarily relinquish either their money or power or influence over the clueless masses. Instead, they are already caught up in a feeding frenzy, competing intensely with one another to loot what remains of our petroleum, natural gas, coal, fisheries, forests, endangered wildlife, agricultural topsoil, and public lands, and turn them all into commodities for quick sale. In this respect, the election of Trump constitutes the death of democracy, the final corporate takeover of the entire planet, and the poisoning of the well of public discourse.
And yet...there is Permaculture. Although the worldwide Permaculture movement is invisible to the mass media, and fewer than 1% of our global population has ever heard of it, I still see it as the only potentially viable means we have for triggering the spontaneous remission of the Cancer of the Earth.
How so? you might ask, with justifiable skepticism. Shortly before he died prematurely of pancreatic cancer, Toby Hemenway, renowned Permaculture guru and author of the magnificent books Gaia's Garden and The Permaculture City, gave a podcast called "Liberation Permaculture" in which he sketched out his latest thinking about the revolutionary potential of Permaculture design for subverting the systems of control by which local, state, and federal governments monitor agricultural land in ways that benefit their corporate sponsors. His argument was that controlling a resource requires measuring or counting it, and the practice of Permaculture, with its web of diverse, interacting elements, functions, and needs among plants, animals, topsoil, and humans, makes it extremely difficult to count or measure any output. And since money is nothing but counting and measuring, this fact enables Permaculture practitioners to gradually and inconspicuously emancipate themselves from the oppression and domination of corporate sponsored governments, as they build self-reliant communities from the ground up to replace them.
But can Permaculture spread rapidly enough to make a difference--to halt our ongoing global destruction before we all fall victim to the collapse of our biosphere? Obviously, I don't know. It depends on whether or not we can propagate the idea of Permaculture rapidly enough for it to catch on before the Glomart neofascists get wind of it, and bulldoze every Permaculture-based backyard, farm, or settlement they find to plant chemical-drenched monocultures.
So yes--Permaculture can, in theory, bring about spontaneous remission of the Glomart cancer, but only in conjunction with other forms of nonviolent resistance and public education. (For a perceptive reading on this topic, see Joanna Macy's article, "The Great Turning.") Permaculture is therefore a discipline and a movement to which I can happily devote the rest of my days as a living being on this planet, in the time remaining before I return to compost and humus for future generations.