Stephen Eades – Can ecology save the living world from extinction? – May 16

There is a view that we are heading to another mass extinction of species, and this time we, humankind, are the cause.

This view is widespread, as is the evidence supporting it, and some take a pessimistic, indeed fatalistic, stance towards the whole issue. See Marinet Chairman’s blog.

However is the demise of our world, and the rest of the living world, inevitable? Is there a way, a form of consciousness and thinking, that can lead us to a safer place ?

I would contend that the answer to this question is, yes.

The answer exists in ecological thinking, and our mastery of its principles, and our commitment and imagination to the application of those principles in the conduct of our civilisation.

If you want to understand this, then read The Way : an Ecological World View by Edward Goldsmith. The discipline which we need to apply is challenging. However the key point in this world view lies in the principles and understanding which we need to master and practice.

To summarise these principles here is impossible. Yet there is one point that is central and this is that the biosphere, the living world as we know it — which includes the physical and chemical world of atmosphere and oceans — has a critical order.

What this means is that life — which is an evolutionary force and entity — knows what it is about in terms of existing, and in order to exist it knows what is essential in terms of practice and principle. In other words, it has developed a structure upon which its existence depends. This structure, and how it operates, is the critical order.

Therefore if we want to combat our pessimism, to find the way to avoid our “inevitable man-made extinction”, we have to understand, embrace and act in accordance with this critical order.

This is what ecology is about — understanding the critical order.

If we can comprehend this, if we can apply our intelligence to this comprehension and so devise intelligent solutions to the problems which confront us — changing climate, accelerating population growth, finite resources, and an ever inventive brain that thinks it is “superior” — then we can find a way that leads us out of the inevitability of man-made extinction.

So our need is not just to be numerate and literate. Essential, and equally so, is our need to be versed in the principles and practice of ecology. This is the urgent necessity which we must be voicing to our educators and politicians the next time we are talking about these things.

To paraphrase Christopher Manes in his book, Green Rage : the significant, indeed frightening, thing that we need to understand is that “our culture is lethal to the ecology upon which it depends”.

Understand this — the dysfunctional nature of our culture, and the imperative requirements of ecology — and we are on the path to the solution. This way, lies optimism.

Stephen Eades


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