How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Monday, April 5, 2010

April 4th, Easter Sunday, 2010

Today, while turning over sod in the vegetable patch to ready the soil for beets, carrots and chard, I unearthed an ancient collection of stones. Each flat piece lay nestled in perfect proportion against its neighbor spreading out in two directions and hidden until today underneath a foot or so of earth.

At first, I was impressed by the seeming synchronicity of my discovery. Decades, perhaps centuries in the past, another farmer had eyed this patch of land and had determined this piece to be the best location for his or her kitchen garden, just as I now do. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the land is relatively level (a rarity in these parts) and collects the sun for much of the day in spite of the surrounding mountainous terrain. My predecessor must have valued these features as I do. Perhaps it was he who erected an old barn that still stands on the property that is constructed of the wood of the American chestnut tree, which has been extinct in the wild since early in the 20th century.

My predecessors would not, I am sure, have viewed an Easter Sunday’s respite in the vegetable patch as the pleasurable leisure I do. Early Southern Appalachian settlers’ lives were punctuated by long, laborious days tending to crops and cattle. After battling thin, acidic and rocky soils and constant challenges from rampant predators preying on flocks and herds, the land generally acquiesced providing enough fruits for the farmer’s subsistence. By attempting to impose the European pastoral ethic upon the land, the early farmer may have imposed unnecessary labor upon himself. Left to their own natural proclivities, the lands of Southern Appalachia are abundant.

Long before white settlers made their way to these mountains, this land, known as “Cartoogechaye” or “new town” was home to the Cherokee Indians (1). While the Cherokees raised the traditional three sisters trio of squash, bean and corn, much of their subsistence resulted from hunting and foraging. The forests and creeks were full of blackberries, raspberries, wineberries, chestnuts, acorns, wild greens, fish, crawfish, deer, rabbit, elk and medicinal plants to cure any conceivable illness. The Cherokee celebrated the abundance of nature, and lived and profited within its confines.

It wasn’t until the white man came to harvest Southern Appalachia’s wealth of oak, maple, chestnut and other commodity woods that the landscape was permanently altered. While the harvest of timber made a few men wealthy, it also caused immeasurable natural poverty.  Deforestation on a large scale led to the erosion of soils and biodiversity losses on an epic scale. The introduction of exotic species, foreign to this landscape took other tolls. The chestnuts and elk have all disappeared along with mountain lions, red wolves and perhaps dozens of other species never recorded. But the fittest survived, and upon the debris of the fallen, the endless cycles of death and resurrection continue to bring forth new life from the land.

As I gaze upon my uncovered stones, each one is an intricate work of art, sporting hues of iridescent green, rusty red, gun metal gray and flecks of glittering silver mica. I decide, perhaps, it was nature herself who fashioned this remarkable collection. The crystal clear Cartoogechaye creek meanders by my property across the road. Perhaps thousands of years or more ago, the creek cut its way across this valley through what is now my backyard depositing stone by stone in artful symmetry with the time and patience of a master craftsman.

I draw forth the stones from the ground as other offerings from the earth are reawakening. The calendar has now passed the spring equinox, and the days growing longer and longer marking the resurrection of life after a long winter’s sleep. As I stand in the welcome, warming sunshine, I understand completely the homage paid to this time of year throughout history by cultures the world over.

“Easter” comes from an ancient word “eastre,” which means “spring (2).” Primitive Saxon and Teutonic cultures in Northern Europe worshipped the Great Earth Mother known variously as Oester, Ostare, Eostre, Eostur and other similar sounding names (3). In the Mediterranean, Greeks and Romans commemorated the tale of Cybele and her fated lover Attis. Attis, the god of vegetation, was born of a virgin, died on “Blood Friday” and after three days was reborn on Easter Sunday. Our Greek, Roman and European cultural ancestors practiced ritualized ceremonies commemorating the death and resurrection of nature that occurs each year at springtime. Festivities included paying homage to the fertility of the earth, symbolized by bunnies and eggs, and by engaging in a glorious feast to commemorate and exalt nature’s wondrous and welcome rebirth. Our Christian religious holiday is almost entirely based on earlier pagan myths and rituals.

As I dig my beds, I once again pile the stones to form simple retaining walls to hold the soil and amendments in place. I can think of no other fitting way to pay my respects on this day of resurrection than to continue the cycle of putting new life into the earth, and resurrecting the cycle that nature continues each spring. I pay homage with the hope that some day these same stones will be uncovered again in the distant future and in a world where nature still flourishes.

1- Runningwolf, Dr. John at
2- From the world wide web at
3- Ibid.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The End

In the ideal future, Homo sapiens realizes he cannot simultaneously destroy his habitat and preserve the survival of his own species because the two activities are mutually exclusive. He again values the Earth and offers her the respect due to the entity that is the very basis of our existence. Diversity and natural beauty are once again revered, natural systems are restored to integrity, and the mysteries of nature are once again set free to evolve and weave their intricate web of life.

So far, few indications that Earth’s dominant species is inclined to alter its destructive ways are evident. Sadly, nature offers numerous examples of the fate of species unwilling to live within their ecological limits. Bacteria multiply exponentially until their population greatly exceeds the carrying capacity of their environment at which point, massive die-off occurs. Rabbits, rats and other fecund creatures unchecked by predation will multiply rampantly, denuding vegetation and consuming resources until disease, hunger and increased aggression cause catastrophic population collapse.

Even in human populations, history tells of repercussions for cultures that do not manage their environment sustainably. In his book Collapse, Jared Diamond recounts the demise of the human civilizations living at Easter Island, the Pitcairn Islands, Greenland and the Mayan Peninsula. In each case, people consumed resources faster than they could be replenished by nature until the environment could no longer sustain the population (1).

As economic models and resource consumption patterns spread across the globe, the fate of the entire planet rests with the success or failure of the American, capitalist globalization paradigm. The leading environmental indicators are not at all encouraging. Amphibians have unwittingly become proverbial canaries in a global coal mine. As humans dramatically alter the natural landscape, sensitive amphibian populations are declining at alarming rates (2). The causes of the population losses are numerous and include hormonal abnormalities caused by water pollutants, susceptibility to increased UV rays resulting from ozone depletion and increased susceptibility to diseases induced by impaired immune systems. Of the 5,743 known amphibian species, 43 percent are suffering severe population declines. An additional 32% are threatened with extinction, and 168 species are already believed to be extinct. It would seem the tipping point for amphibians has been breached.

The frogs, toads and salamanders are not alone. Over its history, Earth has seen several mass extinctions when life itself was nearly wiped off the face of the planet. The most famous of these mass extinctions was the demise of the dinosaurs believed to be caused by a meteor strike, but similar cataclysms have occurred at least 5 times in Earth’s history. Scientists are now grappling with the fact that the actions of Homo sapiens may be precipitating the sixth mass extinction (3). Extinctions for all species are at the highest rate since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago and are climbing (4). If the status quo is not altered, scientists believe we may lose half of the species on earth by the end of the 21st Century. Amphibians are among the oldest species on Earth. Predating the dinosaurs, amphibians have survived four previous mass extinctions, but for all their fortitude, they are seemingly unable to survive the folly of humanity.

We do not know where the tipping point for our own species will be, but indications are that we are approaching it. Fertility rates are falling, cancer rates are climbing, and birth defects such as autism are skyrocketing. Our species is becoming less fit, and in nature’s world, only the fit survive.

If we do not fix our mess, the results will be very sad. The miraculous gift that has been bestowed upon us has been squandered. We will not only precipitate our own demise as a species, but take down several innocent bystander species in the process. Nevertheless, for those that dream of a resurrected Earth, all is not lost. Like a proverbial phoenix, nature will rise again from the ashes of humanity. She will repair and flourish once again as she has always done in the wake of calamity once Homo sapiens joins the ranks of the extinct. Meanwhile, we should live our lives as if the resurrection is imminent, walking in reverence, partaking of the best, simplest pleasures, caring for and nurturing our Earth as we would our human mothers in their decline. Our lives will be made the richer for our actions, and just maybe we can succeed in restoring our Great Mother to her rightful throne.

One day, billions of years hence, our Earth, mother of all living things, will incinerate on a pyre worthy of a goddess, as a dying sun pulls her into in a final embrace. As she turns to dust, the solar winds of sun’s nebulae will carry her ashes across the expanse of the universe where she will be born again into new possibilities.

1- Diamond, Jared, 2005. Collapse – How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Viking Publishers, New York, NY.