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We need to fall back in love with Earth

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By Erin Remblance, Ryan James

· 7 min read

Awe and wonder

Today, Wednesday 2nd August 2023, is Earth Overshoot Day. That is, the day in which “humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year”. For the remainder of the year, we will be stealing from future generations.

With this in mind, it is worth considering how might our response to our ecological crises, which extend far beyond climate change, be different if we were filled with awe and wonder for the Natural World? And if, by doing so, we respected the rights and sentience of the rest of the (more-than-human) Living World?

For starters, we might not displace Our Kin (often given the more clinical term of ‘biodiversity’) from their homes, even though they might sit on valuable minerals or metals simply because it’s not our land to do with what we wish, but rather for us to share, nurture and protect. That basic decency dictates that acres upon acres of land that are home to 2,000-year-old trees should remain untouched simply because the trees themselves would rather live than be killed so that they can be turned into toilet paper, wood chips or any other dead commodity. We may not value whales at US$2 million because of the tourism they bring, the ecosystems they help maintain and the carbon they store, but instead recognise that their life is invaluable to them and therefore to us too. If the dominant culture held these values we wouldn’t be in an ecological crisis in the first place. Dismayingly, we don’t even grant these rights to all humans yet, let alone more-than-humans, which shows you the extent of the work to be done.

If you are unsure why we would grant Nature such rights, consider that trees communicate. They do so via “pheromones and other scent signals” released into the air to warn of an impending threat, allowing at-risk trees to release chemicals to proactively defend themselves against the threat. Similarly, tiny fungal threads (mycelium) - which are much thinner than a human hair - form an underground mycorrhizal network” which connects individual trees together to share water, nitrogen, carbon and other minerals. It is through this process that weaker trees receive the nutrients they need to thrive. Individual members of a forest are communicating all the time. It may not be in the ways in which we communicate, but they are communicating to enhance all of life, nonetheless. Consider how nut trees ‘mast fruit’ (an irregular cycle of boom-or-bust fruiting), in a synchronized fashion:

If one tree fruits, they all fruit — there are no soloists. Not one tree in a grove, but the whole grove; not one grove in the forest, but every grove; all across the county and all across the state. The trees act not as individuals, but somehow as a collective”.

There’s so much we don’t understand about the rest of the Living World yet. How can we show such little appreciation for all that it is capable of?

We are Nature

Our disconnection from Nature is immense. It is so immense that we don’t even realize how immense it is. Most people can identify multiple times more corporate logos than trees in their local area. Many people could not forage for food in their nearest nature reserve, if they even have access to a nature reserve. Many have never even planted a seed in the ground. Despite the many proven benefits of being in ‘Nature’, we overwhelmingly spend more time indoors, or traveling between buildings, than we do outside each day. Even the very concept of ‘Nature’ being a separate place to ‘spend time in’ is symptomatic of our disconnection.

Rather than being separate from Nature, we are in fact indistinguishable from her. We have trillions of bacteria across hundreds of species performing essential services on our skin and in our guts. Several times a day we rely on calories converted from the sun’s energy through the process of photosynthesis, and fresh water from the water cycle to survive. How might we value these life-giving processes differently if we had to grow our own food and collect our own water rather than visit a supermarket or turn on the tap? Supermarkets and water infrastructure are only possible due to industrialization and the burning of fossil fuels, and their very presence makes us even more disconnected from Nature. A self-perpetuating cycle if you will.

The actor, William Shatner, recently described his trip into space on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin as having filled him with “overwhelming sadness”. He explained that:

“[E]very day, we are confronted with the knowledge of further destruction of Earth at our hands: the extinction of animal species, of flora and fauna . . . things that took five billion years to evolve, and suddenly we will never see them again because of the interference of mankind. It filled me with dread. My trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral.”

We shouldn’t need to leave Earth to understand that we must not only respect, but revere, the things that make life possible, on this, the only planet known to sustain life. Looking after our soil, Our Kin, keeping the air and water clean and the climate stable should be our highest priority, not the latest GDP or stock market figures.

We need to fall in love with Earth

The approach that we must move towards is not a ‘solution’ in our current understanding of the word. It is not a new piece of technology or an offset or another way to continue business-as-usual. It is not prioritizing our way of life over that of Our Kin (for example, the fact that skyscrapers kill more birds than wind turbines is a case against skyscrapers, not a case for causing even more harm). It is a direction, a (re)learning of how to feel and communicate with Nature again. It is rooted in how we can (re)establish a connection & right-relationship with Earth and all the sentient beings who inhabit her, human and more-than-human.

It is about (re)animating life back into life, instead of viewing the world as something mechanized; objects that are here for us to manipulate and extract for strictly our own (human) gain. It is to learn from and protect the languages and the lifeways of the people who have been here since time immemorial with systems in place that have maintained a regenerative way of living. It is falling back in love with the Planet and taking care of her. It is looking around and feeling the depth of the pain and destruction that we as a species have caused on this Planet, and for all that our children and their children will never see. It is grieving for what we have done and all that we are still disconnected from. And through this grieving, entering into gratitude again for the very thing that gives us life.

As Thich Nhat Hahn says:

“There’s a revolution that needs to happen and it starts from inside each one of us. We need to wake up and fall in love with the Earth. Our personal and collective happiness and survival depends on it.”

Are you ready to embody the change you wish to see in the world? That change is not through thoughts and words, it is through a felt sense. It is through the heart. Only when you truly love someone will you be able to protect her with every bit of your being. And protecting our Earth - and the life that inhabits her - couldn’t be any more urgent.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the authors

Erin Remblance is a co-founder of (re)Biz which is launching Project Tipping Point in January 2024, for those people who want to learn more about tipping points, their role in reaching them and to connect with like-hearted people wanting to do the same. She lives with her family in Sydney, Australia.

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Ryan James is a co-creator of the (re)Biz (re)connecting business to Earth 28-day online workshop & emergent-creation-lab, which has been designed for those who are ready to build a (re)generative & post-growth world. He is based in Nāʻālehu, Hawai’i with the occupied sovereign kingdom of the Kānaka Maoli people.

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