Reflections for the planet

Earth refugees

There is no longer any room for doubt or hesitation: as the planetary crisis deepens, it is more clear than ever that we must make this century a turning point, indeed, make a historical shift away from an unsustainable development path. Unless we act now, the prospects for humanity will rapidly deteriorate. It is high time for a long-term, bottom-up effort to put curiosity, creativity, and planetary care at the heart of human development. What we need are freely and openly communicating, creative communities capable of solving the global problems of our time. What we need is power to realize an ecological society, free of “invisible hands” that work behind the backs of people.

Thus, we must ensure that we can replace “creative destruction” with something radically better, redirecting our attention away from the production and consumption of goods and services to the reproduction and well-being of all species – to the long-term healing of the biosphere. This shift in perspective does not deny human well-being, but frames it in such a way that it helps us to gain control of the social metabolism with nature, allowing us to determine how to interact with each other and our environment in the long run. However, for this transformation to be a radical break with the present, it must respect the integrity of ecosystems and planetary boundaries. Consequently, it is not enough to minimize the unsustainable (as if it was a pure quantitative shift). We must redefine the rules of human interaction, begin to act as conscious, self-mediating transformers of social and ecological relations. Deeply involved in the process of replacing a mode of destruction (that is spiraling out of control) with a sustainable mode of reproduction, we would then be changing, in the deepest sense, what it means to be interdependent beings. As bearers of hope and restorers of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, we would then be living the revolution.

Our creative and collaborative potential is limited, however, not by the chains of wage labor or any other restriction imposed on us from above. Our ability to imagine is one of the things that make us human, but evolutionarily and ecologically we still belong to nature and its intricately linked systems and subsystems. Whatever our conditions on this planet: how we perceive and socially determine this ever-evolving relationship with nature has immediate and delayed, real-world consequences; it is our future in the making. As individual and collective creators, we must therefore strive for a society that is explicitly defined by human needs and a diversity of collaborative practices that respect the roots and limits of human creativity – that give hope to humanity through nature. From single molecules, genes, and epigenetic processes to entire ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles: nature in all its complexity is, of course, an unparalleled source of inspiration. The biological diversity of forest ecosystems, the water holding capacity of pond ecosystems, and the collective creativity of conscious human beings can easily replace the impervious surfaces of car-dependent cities and the monocultural landscapes of industrial agriculture, while minimizing energy use and waste production. The ongoing destruction of nature, which is also the killing of present and future generations (whether through war, deforestation, soil-degrading agricultural practices, water pollution, or urban sprawl) prompts us to break the death spiral, to fully explore our social and ecological potential.

Here we must recognize the need for self-governance and self-sufficiency, but not confuse this with self-imposed isolation, falling into the trap of parochialism. More specifically, in a non-growing, materially closed system, self-sufficiency requires fully shared resources, fully shared experiences, and fully shared knowledge, which in turn requires an openness of a kind that fosters curiosity and solidarity. In a similar way, sustainable communities must necessarily be extended communities, in that they ultimately depend on the functioning of our planet as a whole, that is, the complex interactions of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, pedosphere, and biosphere. To put it in other terms, sustainable development is scale-dependent and intricately linked to all levels of ecological organization; the continual reproduction of any human society is impossible without the continual reproduction of nature. The simple truth is that we are not alone on this planet.

Constantly in search of new ways to meet our needs and new ways to express solidarity, we must restore our sense of belonging, of being co-habitants on this planet. This is a non-alienating process that distinguishes between real and fictional dependencies – we cannot breathe, drink, or eat money, nor do weapons of mass destruction keep us alive. It is non-alienating by giving us power to radically transform our lives, socially as well as ecologically, from below. The ever more destructive reality of the vast majority of humanity makes mutually beneficial interactions between individuals all the more important, challenging us to build a society for all. Indeed, if we are to determine our own future, all revolutionary processes must rely on the power of self-transcending people, that is, on the perception, imagination, and creative expression respecting the boundaries, ecosystems, and species of our only planet.