Backing into Eden: Chapter 4 – Tools for Gardening a World
In previous essays I’ve covered the idea that we have decided to own almost all of the land on the Earth, and thus we have taken both individual and collective responsibility. I’ve also discussed the many ways we already choose what happens on most of the land, from growing crops and livestock to living and building businesses, from establishing preserves to strip mining. The latest entry was all about our fear that we may just not quite be up to that task.
But we can succeed, and there is already evidence of success.
First, we have information. In general, we know far more than ever about what ecosystems exist where and how they interact with each other. We are developing data about how they might change as a result of environmental pressures and human management or mismanagement. For example, river ecosystems are far better understood and monitored in the Pacific Northwest since specific goals were set for salmon recovery.
Between vastly-improved geographical information services, better sensor technology, an increase in the number of tagged animals, and the advent of big data, our ability to map the garden we live in is increasing exponentially.
As a middle-grade student, I was in the 4H program and showed rabbits and horses at regional fairs. There was never any talk of computers – just healthy feet and coats, feed options, and techniques to look good for the judges. Today’s 4-H clubs have GIS (electronic mapping and modeling) tools available to them to help their communities with emergency preparedness, and active programs to help them understand wind and water. The organization Conservation International showcases some of the GIS work that is being done on a global basis.
Second, we have a framework in which to make decisions. Not a perfect one, but a place to start. Between the UN, Davos, multinational corporations and NGO’s, and the global information web, we have much of what we need and we are, in fact, using it well from time to time. There’s a long way to go, but there is a path forward.
I read rather widely in order to support my thinking about this blog series, and one of the books I have used is “The God Species,” by Mark Lynas. This book specifically explores our current world in light of work done at the Stockholm Environment Institute that explores planetary boundaries research. Take 18 minutes to understand this important research and listen to an excellent TED talk on the subject. John Rockstrom on Planetary Boundaries at TED
I’m in my early fifties. Throughout my life, I’ve seen many changes in the way we treat animals. While some have been bad (the industrialization of egg farms, for one example), there is a relentless social pressure to gain more rights for animals and to treat them better. This is necessary if we want the commercial food chain to produce healthy meals for us. To take it a step further, there is a growing movement to grant animals “personhood.” This has already been done in some places for great apes and is being discussed for other animals. The more we actually learn about animals, the less any form of cruelty seems acceptable. Dolphins call each other by name. Dogs understand fair play. Elephants have complex and matriarchal family structures. From better rules and laws about simple animal cruelty to more rights, there are serious changes happening in many countries to improve animal rights.
Fourth, we are gaining the global will to care for the planet. It is one thing to have empathy and another to do something about it. Governments all along the East Coast of the United States are working to figure out how to design more barriers to rising seawater after Sandy. A recent USA Today Poll shows Americans are getting back around to believing that climate change matters. Reports suggest that China is about to enact a carbon tax. Climate change is not the only planetary boundary, but it has gotten far more media attention than the others. Still, I meet more people lately who are also aware of the current rate of extinction, of the dangers of chemical poisons, and of ocean acidification. Yes, I know that we aren’t doing nearly enough yet. But there is real progress in the tools we have available to us. In the next few chapters, I’ll dig a little deeper into once subject at a time.
I’m looking forward to what people have to say in comments or where more discussion happens – on FaceBook or Twitter. I can be followed on twitter @brendacooper and on FaceBook at BrendaJCooper.