Healing the Biosphere
The immediate past is not the best guidebook to the future. Why learn from wasteful, profit-driven practices, when we can learn from water, trees, and honey bees? Why let agribusiness destroy virgin forests (and our future), when we are in great demand of diverse, neighborhood-integrated food systems? Why contribute to the pollution of lakes and rivers, when we can recycle soil nutrients locally? From a survival perspective, it is obvious that the planetary emergency demands a planetary revolution.
A radical ecological transformation of society is a revolutionary turn, not only replacing destructive production with creative reconstruction. It turns our attention away from the production and consumption of goods and services towards the reproduction and well-being of all species – the long-term healing of the biosphere. This shift of perspective does not deny human well-being, but frames it in such a way that we can gain control of the social metabolism with nature, allowing us to determine how to interact with each other and our environment on a long-term basis. However, for this transformation to be radical, it must foster sustainability in a dual sense: on the one hand, by respecting the integrity of ecosystems and the boundaries of the Earth system; on the other, by guiding the geographically complex interactions of social commons. Consequently, it does not suffice to negate or minimize the unsustainable (and irrational): we must redefine the rules of human interaction, begin to act as conscious, self-mediating transformers of social and ecological relations. Deeply involved in the replacement of a rapidly changing mode of destruction with a sustainable mode of reproduction, we would then change – in the most encompassing sense – what it means to be interdependent beings on this planet. As bearers of hope and restorers of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, we would then live the revolution.
Here we must recognize the need for self-sufficiency, but do not confuse this with self-imposed isolation, falling into the trap of parochialism. More precisely, in a non-growing, materially closed system like the Earth system, self-sufficiency presupposes fully shared resources, fully shared experiences, and fully shared knowledge, which, in turn, presupposes openness of a kind that fosters curiosity and solidarity. In a similar way, sustainable neighborhoods must necessarily be extended neighborhoods, in that they ultimately depend on the functioning of the Earth system as a whole (that is, the complex interactions of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, litosphere, pedosphere, and biosphere). To put it in other terms, sustainable human development is scale-dependent and intricately linked to all levels of ecological organization; the continual reproduction of any human society is impossible without the continual reproduction of nature in its entirety, not the other way around. The simple truth is that we cannot do it alone.