By: Nora Germain
After he was elected in 2016, in a conversation centered around the Environmental Protection Agency and regulation, Donald Trump remarked this. “We’ll be fine with the environment,” Trump replied. “We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.” While Trump is a controversial figure, I think this type of sentiment toward the environment is quite common amongst the general public, and especially within capitalist-aligned business communities.
Sadly, as of 2021, we are now down to even less than “a little bit” of environment left. The Guardian reported in April that just 3% of the world’s ecosystems remain intact. This is something I’ve mentioned in past blogs as well as on the RCast, but I think it’s important to explain why it’s suicide to leave only small amounts of nature intact, and how our collective mindset must evolve.
Leaving “a little bit” of nature doesn’t work for us because the Earth is one large, living, breathing system. If you look at animations of how snow melts and reforms, and how photosynthesis works around the globe, the whole thing is like a ticking clock. It has a rhythm and a beauty, and it only functions if all the parts are healthy. If you start taking parts out of your car that are meant to work together, you’ll find that very quickly, the car stops working and may even become so damaged that it can’t ever be repaired.
The complexity and intelligence contained within the systems of the natural world (ie. the world) is incredibly vast. There is a lot that scientists still don’t understand about how it all formed, how information is passed through organisms, how resilience works and so on. This intelligence has been studied for centuries and still holds vast mystery, yet when we kill/ disrupt/ control/ sanitize 97% of Earth’s nature, we are stifling and ignoring that intelligence. Instead of allowing it to flourish and learning from the indigenous experts, we are destroying it before we can even hope to benefit from its invaluable lessons. We don’t know how to replace these systems, especially ones like the Amazon Rainforest, the coral reefs, the fungal networks, Redwood Forests and so on. They have had millions of years of head start in finding the smartest ways to thrive. Humans are arrogant. We are obsessed with business, money, greed and selling things. We should look at nature more closely and protect its lessons and value, value which we have barely glimpsed in the western world.
This attitude can be understood very clearly in a viral meme that shows the body of a dead, baby octopus for sale in a grocery store, encased in plastic packaging for the price of 36 cents. The caption reads, “36 pence for a dead baby octopus, one of the most amazing creatures to ever swim the seas. I swear we do not deserve this world.”
It’s truly astounding all of the amazing things that nature can do “automatically,” things that are built into the system and just simply – work. This is a technologist’s dream. David Attenborough’s entire career has been about showing these secrets and marvels to the human world. Nature knows how to deal with waste for example, and as Greg Meredith recently pointed out, the forest isn’t dirty. The floor of the forest, although almost entirely covered in dirt, never feels dirty. Somehow only the cities feel dirty and gross, even toxic some might say.
This brings me to my next point. We as a species should not break things we don’t know how to fix. We know how to build electric cars. That’s great. But we don’t know how to regrow the Amazon, or create a new Arctic once it’s melted, or grow food from dead soil, or restart ocean circulation if or when that shuts off. We should be strengthening these systems all around us, supporting their livelihood and learning all we can from them, while we can.
Almost everything we eat, wear and use comes directly from nature, including wood for furniture or paper for books, juice you drink in the morning and cotton for your clothes. Everything we do touches nature at some point. Not only does our one beautiful planet provide us, almost magically, with water and Oxygen and the perfect conditions that created life itself, but we also need a stable planet to support our critical infrastructure, including our internet infrastructure.
The internet infrastructure can melt or malfunction if it gets too hot, or can go offline and break if it floods. Then there’s hurricanes, utility and energy grid stress, and more that can also disrupt the internet. I don’t need to tell anybody reading this that the internet is the basis for modern life, but also for all things Web3, blockchain and the metaverse. We may like to believe that life is now existing “off-world” or just in the cloud or on our devices. But everything we build in those digital spaces needs stability in the living world in order to function. It needs electricity, and it needs a certain temperature range to support it.
We may be mentally and emotionally disconnected from nature, unaware of our continued dependence upon it – but our supply chains, infrastructure and food systems are not disconnected from nature in the slightest. If Donald Trump’s mentality about nature becomes the mainstream belief, we are going to be in a lot of pain, potentially irreversible pain, very soon. This was all preventable, and the worst of it still is. A lot of people believe that it’s too late to do anything about the climate crisis or the current mass extinction. The truth is that our actions now will determine how bad it will get. That’s the simple reality of it. The best time to solve these issues was about 50 years ago. We, in the richest nations, quite literally burned through that time and now we have to act much more radically. What has happened to much of the Southern Hemisphere for decades will come for the Northern Hemisphere. It’s up to us. It’s not fair, it’s not convenient, but it’s the challenge of our time.