By Leila Conners -- Tree Media
On Earth Day, April 22, there will be awareness-raising events across the globe trying to connect people to the planet that is their only home. In this week alone, news about our planet is grave. The last male northern white rhino must now be kept under armed guard 24/7; one of the last six Irrawaddy river dolphins just perished; the pace of deforestation in the Amazon has more than doubled in the past six months; the California drought data is more brutal by the day; and Arctic sea ice hit a record low for this time of year -- to mention but a few. As humans gnaw away at the planet day by day and the bad news piles up, it must be clear to most that we are literally biting the hand that feeds us.
What is most poignant is that now, in the final death throes of these species and ecosystems, we are now beginning to wake up from our Cartesian-induced slumber to realize how important the function of the natural world is to mitigating the very things that are destroying our world. And in this moment, a ray of very powerful insight has emerged. Our next film, “Restoration,” addresses the idea that if we stop superimposing our 19th-century industrial logic on the landscape, the earth’s systems can reverse the damage of thoughtless industrial growth.
Even though systems thinking has been with us for decades, as well as deep ecology and thoughts that we are all “connected,” for some reason, we have not fully seized on the full implications of what this all means. We must stop for a moment and go deep into the understanding of the way soil works, the way trees work, the way mushroom mycelium work, the way the oceans work -- among countless others systems. When we do, we come to realize that all these things can literally reverse what many now know is the -- at minimum pathological, at most suicidal -- path we are on. Instead of satisfying the short-term shareholder value mindset, we must consider the following before we cut down the last tree.
Trees and oceans have long been sequestering carbon and mitigating our industrial pollution -- so much so that in the case of the oceans, it’s acidifying now. The problem is, trees can’t do the work as they once had because we are cutting them down faster than ever. And planting new trees, while important, does not replace the carbon sequestration power of ancient complex forests and the wood debris below. In the floor of the old-growth forest lies ancient mushroom mycelium that, we are discovering through the work of Paul Stamets, can take E. coli out of wastewater, decontaminate hydrocarbons from soil, hyper-accumulate heavy metals and help reverse the pollution of industry. And this is just the beginning.
We are incredibly arrogant to think that the millions of years of complexity that’s in the rainforest is worth destroying so we can grow soybeans to feed cattle. And for wood and paper? We can supply the world’s need for wood and paper through fiber farms. Not a single tree in an existing old-growth forest should be cut down from this day forward.
And even with soil that’s under cultivation, there is opportunity. If we work with the natural fundamentals of soil, the soil can save us, truly. After a 30-year study, the Rodale Institute has concluded that regenerative agriculture -- organic agriculture -- can sequester enormous amounts of carbon and still feed the world. According to Rodale: "Recent data from farming systems and pasture trials around the globe show that we could sequester more than 100 percent of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term ‘regenerative organic agriculture.’” Isn’t that good news? So shouldn’t we get about the business of detoxing our soil from fossil fuel-based chemical additives immediately?
In these critical years, we do still have the opportunity to look closely at nature and change our ways. The path forward is to understand how nature functions and mimic it -- called biomimicry. And, in Janine Benyus’ words to me: “Life has been on this planet for more than 3.8 billion years, so it’s figured out how to live here gracefully. Maybe we should take our cues from nature, learn how it makes things, propels things, sticks things together. It does so in context. It’s not toxic. It doesn’t make things with high energy or big pressures. It manages most at room temperature, in water. That is master building, and we should look to our natural elders as apprentices.”
Is it possible that our civilization have the humility to approach the world in such a way? If we could, we could build an incredibly robust society that lasts long into the future.