Antidote to Despair

When living systems behave symbiotically they have emergent properties that reductionist science cannot predict.
— Dr. Christine Jones, Australian soil scientist

We speak of the Amazon rainforest as the lungs of the planet. Lately, people are saying that the soil is the Earth’s gut biome. But these turns of phrase are yet another example of the human-centric co-option of the Natural World. It would be more accurate, and more respectful, to say that our lungs are the forests of our bodies. Our blood is ocean. Our bellies are soil. We are Earth, created in Her image. We are microcosms of Her.

For last month’s Full Moon post, I shared Dr. Jem Bendell’s dire warning that climate change is an irreversible done deal, and ‘Deep Adaptation’ is now our only viable response. As I mentioned then, this certainly gave me pause, and more than a few sleepless nights. If we do not respond quickly and well, he will be right. But this is where our philosophical paths diverge. Perhaps it’s a woman thing – as a bringer of life, I have faith in Life, in the Earth’s desire and capacity to heal. As a friend said last week, “I cast my lot with Magic,” meaning the magic of Creation, of Life itself.

In the wake of Dr. Bendell’s essay, it was with a heavy heart that, a couple of weeks ago, I attended a soil health workshop featuring Dr. Christine Jones, an Australian soil scientist and fierce advocate of regenerative agriculture as a viable, effective response to the climate crisis. For the past two years, I have been studying the human gut biome, regenerative agriculture and soil health. I have heard from four other well-respected soil health teachers that regenerative agriculture can reverse the climate crisis, but somehow it wasn’t until I heard it again from Dr. Jones that it finally began to sink in.

I learned that water vapor accounts for 95% of the greenhouse effect; that at most, 3% of the CO2 in the air results from the burning of fossil fuels; and that CO2 constitutes only 0.04% of the atmosphere. What this means in English is that it is primarily the way we have ravaged the Earth through industrial farming that has released massive amounts of CO2 by destroying the plant roots that hold CO2, moisture and nutrients when intact. Without a robust root system, water that would normally be held in the soil is released in the form of water vapor, creating a blanket of moisture in the atmosphere that traps heat. Bare soil exacerbates this – try touching the ground on a hot day and you will see for yourself. This additional heating of denuded soil reinforces a vicious cycle, adding more water vapor and more heat to the atmosphere, and here we are. Then, because artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides kill any remaining soil microbes, plants and therefore animals and humans are suffering unprecedented illnesses because we are not getting the nutrients we need.

Last but by no means least, simplified landscapes, ie monocultures, are degraded landscapes because plant diversity is essential for a robust microbial population. The innate intelligence of microbes, soil, plants, seeds, sunshine and water, interacting with animals and with each other, seems to trigger ‘quorum sensing’ which means that these living beings begin to respond and interact as a unit, Once a certain threshold of diversity and vigor is reached, the soil microbiome, by  interacting with plants and animals, becomes more and more vibrant and robust. A larger intelligence spontaneously arises. The kicker is, that vibrant diversity of plants, animals and soil microbes seems to attract rain. When we say that it rains where there are trees, what we are really saying is that it rains where the microbial life of the soil is vibrantly healthy.

In other words: robust plant diversity = robust microbial diversity = healthier plants, animals and people = massive amounts of carbon, nutrients, organic matter and water stored naturally in healthy soil = a cooler planet = climate repair. Leaders in soil health are saying that if we apply these principles globally, the climate crisis could be reversed in less than 5 years. Oh, and, by the way: eating 30 or more different kinds of plants in a week will bring our gut biomes into balance as well.  

What is more important than this information, heartening though it may be, is the understanding that a Life-centered mindset among humans is what is necessary in order to cooperate with Nature. We must shift our thinking to become Life-centric rather than human-centric. The I/me focus is driving us to extinction.

When we say that rainforests are the lungs of the Earth, the focus is on what the rainforest does for us. But when we say that our lungs are the forests of our body, we identify ourselves within the natural systems that sustain all life. In order to behave symbiotically we must shift our identity. In so doing, we participate in the quorum sensing that miracles are made of. It be-hooves us to remember that Nature can – and does – move mountains.