Earth v. Eaarth: We Need a ‘New Story’

Aug. 17, 2012

Earth v. Eaarth: We Need a ‘New Story’

Competing Visions of Anthropocene and Ecozoic Eras

The late philosopher and theologian Thomas Berry gives an uplifting vision of Earth in his writing in which he posits that a new age, the Ecozoic Era, could be upon us.

This “New Story,” as Berry called it, would be marked by “a period when humans would dwell upon the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner.”

As Berry explained in the October 1991 Eleventh Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures in Great Barrington, Mass.:There are only two other moments in the history of this planet that offer us some sense of what is happening. These two moments are the end of the Paleozoic Era 220 million years ago, when some 90 percent of all species living at that time were extinguished, and the terminal phase of the Mesozoic Era 65 million years ago, when there was also very extensive extinction.”

He laid out six conditions for an Earth community to be engaged in this Great Work that are required for this New Story to unfold and thereby save the planet and humankind.

“The biggest single question before us in the 1990s is the extent to which this technological-industrial-commercial context of human functioning can be made compatible with the integral functioning of the other life systems of the planet,” Berry warned.

Bill McKibben seems to have answered that in the negative with his book, Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough, New Planet (2010), explaining that climate change with its attendant problems isn’t something that’s “going to” happen, but is already here. The planet that we have now is not the planet we had before, and the technological-industrial-commercial context that was destroying natural systems has worsened and shows no indication of abating.

In fact, there is a growing movement to name a new geologic era, the Anthropocene, to reflect the cumulative ill effects of human impacts upon Earth — or, Eaarth.

Berry later refined his conditions for ushering in the Ecozoic Era that broadens the abilities of humans to make positive change in the world (see: Twelve Understandings Concerning the Ecozoic Era, www.ecozoicstudies.org). His vision remains a powerful challenge to humankind to change its course, from creating an Anthropocene Era to an Ecozoic Era, away from a worsening Eaarth to a wholesome and life-sustaining Earth.

Central to Berry’s New Story is that ecological spirituality hold a special place as one of three “key building blocks.” This “presence to the primal mystery and value of nature and to Earth as a single sacred community, provides a basis for revitalizing religious experience and healing the human psyche,” Berry says. It’s central to the New Story that it “invites new cosmological reflection on meaning and value and the role and place of humans in the universe process.”

And that concern for ecological spirituality is closely allied with the third key element: “Bioregionalism,” that cares “for Earth in its relatively self-sustaining geo-biological divisions, reorients human activity in developing sustainable modes of living, building inclusive human community, caring for the rights of other species, and preserving the health of the Earth on which all life depends.”

Significantly, many who support the vision of declaring an Anthropocene Era say it began 12,000 years ago with the birth of agriculture, rather than, as some contend, with the Industrial Age. Indeed, rather than manufacturing alone, if one were to reverse course toward Eaarth, much of the application of Berry’s principles would require changes in the way agricultural policy is conducted.

Practical ways could include:

— Federal subsidies or grants for rural redevelopment, much as “healthy cities” initiatives by past Congresses helped urban areas. These could include bond mechanisms such as GOzone (Gulf Opportunity) bonds that were offered in the Gulf Coast to rebuild infrastructure after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region.

— Farm Bill subsidies or grants supporting local and organic growing, promoting small ecofarms both rural and urban for fresh fruits and vegetables. This would directly address the problem of “food deserts,” areas where fresh food is lacking. It would help address spiraling health care costs.

— Public distribution network funding would help farmers and promote farming by reducing the bottleneck between producers and processors/distributors who dictate low prices. This already is in place in limited fashion by the promotion and certifying of farmers markets; but if regional hubs could be developed for distribution of local organic and heirloom varieties, small farmers could find larger markets for their crops and biodiversity could be supported. This would boost local communities, as well as the bioregionalism of the areas.

As Berry and others have detailed, the growth of the industrial megafarm relying on fossil fuels and chemicals has devastated rural communities by producing commodities for shipment overseas or national food processing giants, instead of local food, hastening jobs to the cities, and making states food importers rather than food exporters.

In his book, Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community, Berry outlines that accepting a New Story is a rejection of the industrial mindset that leaves Earth as wasteland.

While the forces that are propelling destruction of Earth are large, collectively, the individual power of human beings is great, as well. The power to create is as great as that to destroy. As Berry so persuasively argues, building a sense of awe for the universe and its beings as sacred can change the course of humanity and planet. It’s up to us, each, individually, to enact this New Story.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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