Biodiversity, Consumerism, Deforestation, Economics, Global Warming/Climate Change, Society — by Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor May 24, 2011
All photographs © Craig Mackintosh
Since 1992, every May 22 has been the International Day for Biological Diversity. It’s a UN attempt to raise awareness of the importance of biological diversity to our lives and our future. So, did you notice anything different about this past Sunday? Did you wake up in the morning and hop out of bed with the distinct feeling that the day was something special?
Permaculturists understand well the significance of diversity. Indeed, the watchwords are ‘diversity is stability‘, and we can go further to say the more diversity you have, the more stability you have.
Contrast that with the world we see today…. Our economic and political systems encourage monocultures. And the result? Ecosystems are unraveling almost broadscale. They are increasingly unstable. We watch the news, or just look out the window, to see one disaster after another. Take our climatic systems, for example. Instead of the gifts that the sun, rain and wind usually are, these could now almost better be described as the ‘top predator’ within our biosphere. The behaviour of this predator is in direct relation to the health of the myriad subsystems beneath it.
I like to think of Gaia as a little like a bicycle wheel, with ourselves as riding the bike the wheel is supporting. The wheel is held together by dozens of seemingly fragile spokes. In unison, they have the strength to keep the wheel, and the bike, upright, even over rather difficult terrain. Take a few spokes out, however, and the wheel’s integrity begins to get compromised. Take a few more out, and you’ve really got to be careful what trail you choose to ride down. A few more, and, well, the wheel starts to buckle, before finally collapsing and casting you, the passenger, off the path and into the mud.
The wheel’s spokes are like elements of the world’s diversity. The more we have, the safer we are. Take enough out, and a tipping point is reached….
We have an economic system that says our forests — themselves being home for an enormous array of life — are more valuable to us when on their way to the mill than they are standing. (If our prize is a higher GDP, then it looks much better on the books, in a given year, if we’ve sold our forests into toothpicks than it does if they were just left to stand — leaving us without a paid invoice in hand.)
Aside from problems inherent with short-sighted economic systems, which incentivise, and even mandate, greed and destruction, I think we all individually have a problem as well. That problem is one of detachment.
As is true with our interhuman relationships, the same is true of our relationships with the other organisms we share this earth with. Appreciation and empathy gets lost through lack of interaction. We care little for our fellow organisms because we rarely experience any meaningful connection with them. We spend our days with LCDs and air-conditioners, and bare fleeting moments with life itself. Having migrated and crammed ourselves like sardines into urban islands, we now have a long distance relationship with nature — rarely bothering to call home….
I’d like to encourage those of you with land, to consider how you can help build additional diversity into it. Feel free to tell us, by way of comments below (or send us articles on the same), ways you’ve found to successfully achieve this. Those of you without land, I’d encourage you to spend free time learning from and helping those who do. Appreciating the natural world comes naturally to us. It requires little in the way of effort — all we need to do is to take some regular time to immerse ourselves in it! The world is a fascinating place. Work in it. Play in it. Walk in it. Observe its interactions, and soon you’ll be discovering the beneficial role you can play in its management.
As a visual contribution, I’m sharing some photographs in this post in a bid to celebrate some of the diversity we have left. Even now, we truly live in a beautiful world.
The sad story about these pictures is that they were all taken at a single zoo…. I use them to illustrate a point. I think a problem we have as a race is that when we think of nature, we tend to compartmentalise it. It’s that ‘reserve’ or ‘park’ that needs to be ‘protected’ from us. We tend to admit that we ourselves are destructive, but the central problem is that since we can’t see ourselves being anything more than destructive, we conclude that if we can just leave enough space ‘out there’ that we don’t touch, then it’ll all somehow balance out. Failing that, we’ll ’save’ some individuals and keep them in a living museum.
I think we should look at the world differently. We should recognise that humankind are also part of nature. Not only that, and not only that we (as part of nature) deserve to survive, but we can actually be a beneficial organism in the picture also. If this capacity (which is proven) could be true of all humans, then it doesn’t matter where man lives, even if he virtually covers the globe, as he is then an asset to the planet, and not a parasite. This of course can only happen if he learns to work with nature, and not battle it at every step. Restoring diversity means shunning monocultures — and shunning the policies and industries that incentivise them. It starts in our homes, on our plates, and in our gardens, but extends all the way into the supermarkets and the corporate and political halls of power. It’s not until we’ve tackled how we collectively live in all these areas that we can truly begin to celebrate biodiversity day, every day.