Eden Lost is the phrase I use to refer to all that we are on the brink of losing as the Perfect Storm approaches.
We seldom realize it, but we are living in something very similar to the Garden of Eden referred to in the Bible. An environment we are perfectly adapted to. An environment which is both extremely rare and extremely precious in the endless vacuum and hard radiation of space. And an environment which, like the Biblical Garden of Eden, once forfeited, will never be returned to us again as it was.
Our world is filled with plants and animals born of three and a half billion years of evolution and woven into incomprehensibly beautiful and complex patterns of interdependency. The elephants, the glaciers, the rain forests and the reefs with their long beaches of white sand. The annual migrations and the nests built with such care, the new cubs at play in their first year, the green mountains covered with ancient and dark conifers and the frogs that sing life's song of longing to us from the ponds of our springs and summers.
It is a palette of life, this world - our birthplace. It is filled with millions of overlaid brush stokes and each of these is a chain tens of thousands of generations long that we call species. And, in this small place, safe from the pitiless and vast nothingness beyond our sky, a vibrant and magical complexity has been building and feeding into itself for eons - self-replicating - driven and warmed by the bounty of the sun's glow and spilling forth ever more beautiful forms keen of eye and glorious of leaf - a small and fragile garden in a universe of desert.
Sit outside on a warm day with a soft breeze blowing and the leaves singing. Before you, a small child, or a puppy or a kitten playing in the grass feeling the joy of life welling new and ask yourself what it is all worth - this natural world of ours.
If you have the freedom and ease to be able to do these things and feel what I'm talking about, then you are still among the lucky ones in this world. Many, even as the sun blesses our thoughts, cry for water and for food. Cry from disease and cold, from fouled water and repressive governments and brutality. The world is becoming a narrow and hard place. A world of haves and have nots, of wealth and poverty, of lives of beautiful indulgences and of grinding misery.
Some would say there have always been rich and poor and there's always been disease and misery. Yes, but in recent centuries, things were getting better. Despots were giving way to governments for their people, health care and sanitation were reaching further each year into the lives of the marginalized. Education was more freely available. Mankind was on a steady ascension towards the light of a fair and equitable world.
But, all of this, the sumer sun, the joy of nature's bounty and the steady rise towards social enlightenment are all now sliding towards an unimaginable edge beyond which they will simply be memories of what once was and what once could have been.
A world changing storm is gathering. As E. O. Wilson, the biologist, says, humanity is approaching a bottleneck in history. And unless we manifest an unprecedented exhibition of intentional transcendence and move beyond blindly acting out our Biological Imperatives, we and our dreams of better lives and the biological world, as we know it, will not survive the passage.
So, what are these coming changes which threaten to destroy our Eden? You can find them discussed here under the permanent topic, The Perfect Storm.
I'll discuss some of the consequences, below.
Global Warming will induce Global Climate Changes and, in most places, temperatures will rise. As temperatures rise, species will want to move to pursue their optimum climates. Some birds and animals will succeed but many plants will fail and large scale extinctions will result.
The web of life is interdependent and as species disappear, it will have a domino effect on the viability of other species and critical food chains may well be broken causing the damage to spread exponentially.
As the world warms, global weather events will become more severe. The ice covering Greenland and the Antarctic continent will speed their melting and ocean levels will rise. Mountain snow packs will decrease and the current melting of the world's glaciers will accelerate. Low-lying coastal areas will be inundated and millions and millions of environmental refugees will result and major urban areas will be destroyed at huge economic costs to the countries involved and these impacts will radiate back into the global economic matrix negatively.
Mankind has already expanded to fill the world nearly to its limits. Fresh water supplies are becoming critical in many places and aquifers are falling rapidly towards depletion in several of the world's critical food growing regions such as the central US and northern China. Man's ability to grow sufficient food for our populations is nearing a limit and demise of a critical aquifer or the cessation of summer runoff from winter snow packs due to global warming, will lower our ability to produce sufficient food far below what is required and mass social unrest will follow in the areas affected. Current problems with deforestation, erosion, desertification, ocean dead-zones and failing fisheries will continue to accelerate these problems.
Meanwhile, first-world consumption will continue and increase as it always has increasing the pressure on water, food and oil supplies. As we begin to move into peak-oil territory, the cost of oil products will begin a slow but inexorable rise and thousands of "downstream" oil-dependent products will also rise in cost and scarcity as well. Especially significant here will be the cost of fertilizers which directly relate to our ability to grow food at prices people in poorer nations can afford.
As the water, food, economic and social pressures rise, marginal governments will fall into chaos such as currently exists in Somalia. These stresses will be met by ever more militant forms of fundamentalism as people struggle to understand what's wrong with their world and adopt ever more decisive and simplistic explanations and responses. Increased fundamentalism will increase the marginalization of women and their rights and as women lose their human, economic and reproductive self-determination rights, the inevitable result will be increasing birthrates in areas with the worse problems which will, in turn, further drive radical fundamentalism.
By the time that things are so bad that our greenhouse gas emissions have dropped to reasonable levels as a result of the destruction of our civilization's infrastructures, Global Warming will be well on its way into uncharted territories, huge numbers of species will be extinct, much of the world will be subject to anarchy and chaos and billions will have died.
This is just one story of how Eden may be lost. There are many possible stories depending on the order in which the coming problems manifest themselves.
The bottom line behind all of these stories is, however, that we, mankind, cannot simply continue as we are going:
- forever expanding our populations
- forever increasing our usage of the earth's resources both renewable and non-renewable
- forever pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere
- forever inventing and disbursing new chemicals into the biosphere with little idea of their consequence
- forever allowing the gap between rich and poor to build into greater despair and fundamentalism
- forever ignoring our deep and utter dependence on the natural world from which we sprang
But, beneath all of these things lies the deep driver behind all of them; our inborn Biological Imperatives. Hardwired into the very fabric of our biological beings, these imperatives inform and drive our actions just as they inform and drive the actions of every biological form which has evolved on this earth over the last three and a half billion years.
The deep urge to live, to propagate our genes forward in time, to create a space within which our progeny can grow to reproductive age safely so that they may continue the chain unbroken.
It's a strategy which had its roots very near the beginning of evolution with the first self-replicating entities. These early forms underwent natural selection in which those that tended to pursue such imperatives survived and those that did not, died. And thus, the imperatives were conserved and enshrined at the center of our motivations as our deepest and most fundamental drives and have existed as a behavioral cornerstone ever since in all biological forms.
As a strategy, it has always served biological forms well up until evolution tried a new experiment with generalized intelligence and a species evolved which was so much more powerful than those which had gone before that it was able to effectively free itself of all of the checks and balances of the natural world and expand unopposed.
And that brings us to now, because we are that species and our acting out our Biological Imperatives unopposed has brought ourselves and the biosphere around us to the edge of ruin.
Other than continuing forward onto ruin, there is only one pathway open to us and its difficulty is immense. We must, as a species, and as individuals, intentionally transcend our Biological Imperatives and adopt a new conscious imperative if we wish to survive.
We must choose to get into a steady-state balance with the biosphere. We must lower and control our population and our resource needs to the point where we can exist here indefinitely without exceeding the ability of the resources we are using to replenish themselves.
If we can do this, we can exist here indefinitely on this planet while allowing the natural world around us to continue evolving unimpaired. If, instead of constantly striving to grow and expand, we turn our attentions to improving our lives and our comforts within a constant foot print on this planet, we can continue to advance materially and in wisdom and we will give ourselves the time and space to ask, "What the purpose is of biological forms such as ourselves after they've survived the bottleneck of their adolescent coming out?"