ESSAY: Ecology Is the Meaning of Life
Naturally evolved ecosystems are marvels that make Earth habitable, yet sadly they and all life are threatened
Ultimately, all humanity and all life have is the biosphere, the thin layer of life just above and below Earth’s surface, composed of ancient, miraculously evolved natural ecosystems. The natural Earth is a marvel – a complex coupling of species within ecosystems, whereby life begets life.
Ecology is far more than the study of life and its environment. The word is used here as a synonym for ecosystems – the vibrant connections that emerge between species across scales, which cumulatively make life on Earth possible.
Nature is far, far more than pretty plants and animals. Ecosystems make Earth habitable, providing water, food, air, shelter, and more – everything that we need and desire to live well. In naturally evolved ecosystems, from genes to individual organisms and species, to ecosystems and everything else in between, each living being present fulfills a niche which sustains itself, its neighbors, and the whole.
All species uniquely express evolutionary brilliance and have a purpose, a reason for being, a right to exist, and are necessary to maintain life’s full potential. From the lowly worm to soaring eagles, to the human race – all naturally evolved life has value and relies upon all the rest. Even seemingly noxious disease organisms and man-eating predators have a role to play in maintaining ecological balance.
The Earth as a whole is a living organism, similar biologically to a cell, plant, animal, or ecosystem. Without large intact ecosystems, Earth becomes uninhabitable. Yet sadly, she is being murdered by industrial human growth at the expense of ecosystems. Past certain planetary boundary conditions, like any life, Earth can die.
The vibrant mélange of life found in natural ecosystems is godlike in its all-embracing nurturing. Ecology is the meaning of life.
Humankind’s demand for resources and growth overwhelms nature, our steady diminishment of ecosystems abruptly changes climate, and this is collapsing the biosphere. Global ecosystems – water, air, food, forests, oceans, wetlands, and more – are collapsing and dying under the burden of human industrial and population growth.
Human destruction of natural ecosystems and disintegrating climatic integrity are already past critical thresholds. Humanity (meaning each of us) can’t dump filth into air, defecate into water, kill and diminish natural vegetation, plunder oceans, and expect a habitable Earth and decent lives. Abrupt climate change is indicative of much broader decline, both ecological and social – habitat loss, water shortages, inequitable overconsumption, dead oceans, nationalistic injustice, and industrial agriculture – that threatens life itself.
Comforts of modern life for some come at the expense of utterly decimating natural ecosystems required to sustain life; such comforts cannot last. Mass chaos and death are sure to ensue. No one will survive abrupt climate change, ecosystem loss, and biosphere collapse.
Ecosystems are being wantonly liquidated based upon the myth that we can grow forever. Yet we know perpetual exponential economic growth is impossible on a finite planet. Humanity is systematically dismantling Earth’s environmental life support systems, and at most a few more decades of industrial growth will be inevitably followed by ecosystem and biosphere collapse.
The human family is epically failing to protect and restore ecosystems and reduce greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to avert global ecosystem collapse, achieve ecological sustainability, and enjoy universal well-being forever. The brutal manner in which humankind treats Earth, other species, and each other makes a mockery of claims of being civilized. At our worst, we have become out-of-control vermin destroying our own habitat for momentary pleasure.
The human family is in ecological overshoot, having exceeded Earth’s carrying capacity, and is pulling down all species and the biosphere with us, as Earth’s life collapses into nothingness. There is no easy way out, as together we face an end to ecology, and thus life itself.
Sustainability Solutions Exist
Workable solutions to climate change and broad-based environmental decline exist; they include ending fossil fuels, protecting and restoring ecosystems, agro-ecological food production, reducing population and inequity, and establishing a steady state economy. Plainly, however, such a transition is not going to be easy. Solutions to avert global ecosystem collapse will be disruptive. Yet there is no alternative if together humanity is to survive and enjoy well-being within Earth’s ecological boundaries.
Industrial growth at the expense of ecosystems and climate must end as soon as possible. For human and all life’s survival and well-being, intact ecosystems must remain the context for human endeavors. Huge potential exists to further develop organic, permaculture based agro-ecological systems for growing our food. Ultimately, we are all challenged to create something of worth from our hands and minds working on the land, based upon regenerating and nurturing ecosystems, for our daily sustenance.
We each must nurture a sense of enoughness, realizing more isn’t always better, particularly if it undermines our natural habitat, and thus our ability to persist.
It is not too late to embrace an ecology ethic. But the longer we wait, the more limited our options. Despite pernicious trends in ecological decline – and allowing for the possibility of a deep resiliency to the Earth System of which we are unaware – out of love of life, we owe it to Earth, kindred species, and kids everywhere to try everything possible to save being.
Growth in industry, population, consumption, and inequity cannot be maintained. Together we must reach a steady state economy whereby natural capital is replenished, not diminished. Through measures like educating all girls and providing birth control to all, we must urgently pursue reductions in human population, the most basic human impact upon the climate and ecosystems, or the biosphere collapses.
Ignorance and superstition must be banished through education and promoting a love of truth, justice, knowledge, wisdom, and fairness.
For capitalism to have any future and avoid social, ecological, and economic collapse on a dead planet, it must learn to price external costs and environmental risk now, while rejecting its obsession with growth as the ultimate measure of well-being. Otherwise industrial capitalism will have to be replaced soon just so most may survive, let alone thrive.
Alternatives exist that are fair and reward hard work, but sadly we find it easier to consider the end of life on Earth, rather than embrace essential social change.
For human survival and well-being, committing acts of ecocide that destroy ecosystems must somehow be made unacceptable, and this must be enforced. The environment movement must make more of an effort to communicate the complexity of ecological crises, their profound risk, and these and other sufficient solutions – while resolutely rejecting and outing greenwash that legitimates ecocidal activities.
The green movement must also move beyond awareness-raising stunts and build a broad-based movement to seize power and to implement the ecological policies necessary to sustain being.
Only total societal reorganization away from destroying ecosystems and burning fossil fuels can save Earth and humanity. Either humanity finds a way together to implement difficult ecological policies to end fossil fuels, protect ecosystems, and achieve a steady-state economy – or it is the end. No measures except indiscriminate terrorism targeting innocents can be off the table in efforts to together protect ecology.
Hope in Ecosystems
Today free your mind and senses to see ecology everywhere, in everything you do, and the myriad ways it suffers from human hubris, indifference, ignorance, and overuse. As long as together we still breathe, there is hope we can sustain Earth, but realistically the state of ecosystems and the biosphere is grim and worsening. We must start in haste, today, to build the world that is possible and needed.
Love of other peoples and species, nature, truth, justice, and equity are the only lasting basis of global ecological sustainability and show the only effective way forward to avoid final ecosystem collapse. For a sustainable, decent future we must go back to the land, stop burning fossil fuels, and nurture ecosystems and one another.
We are one human family with inalienable rights and duties to freedom, work, equity, peace, justice, and sustained ecology. Profound inequity, ecological collapse, persistent injustice, nationalistic perma-war, superstition, and ignorance when faced with truth – all are sicknesses that mar human potential and will prove fatal.
Together the human family either learns to live well together within intact ecosystems and without fossil fuels or faces a period of profound suffering, followed by biosphere collapse and the end of being. Together we could end the current system’s elite rule, inequity, injustice, and gross ecological negligence at any time. Either we act together soon, courageously, on the basis of truthful ecological knowledge, or else each of us alone faces misery and a final apocalyptic global ecological collapse.
Ecology is the meaning of life. Truth, justice, equity, and sustainability are the ideals whereby ecology can be maintained. Let’s make it so.