The snow and cold at the beginning of the week turned to rain and, with only partial sunshine, gradual warmth over the rest of the week. Perhaps that explains why, over the last two warm and sunny days, the inertia of the previous few days overcame me and I did not, could not, haul those forty-pound bags of manure out to the backyard and work on my garden.
Instead, I stayed inside and, between intermittent bouts of boring housework, tried to keep up with world news while pondering that growing madness at the center of the world, that news describes.
I’m not thinking here of the natural world, the closed system that meets the momentary madness of a species which grows beyond its food supply with die-off and, in doing so, tends back toward equilibrium within the system.
What I’ve been thinking about is the world of seemingly open, non-linear systems created by the madness of a species which believes it exists outside that closed system of the natural world – receiving (taking, really) energy and mass from the external environment, moving them through the various systems and exporting the spent energy and waste back into the environment without consequences.
Where did that madness come from? At the beginning of our evolution as a separate species, distinguished from our ape ancestors by the ability to walk upright and our opposable thumbs, we lived within the natural world. When did that change?
Perhaps the seeds of that madness were planted with the realization that, with our opposable thumbs we could create tools superior to those primitive twigs and stones and branches used by other big-brained species. Or, that animals we found and ate when they’d died could be hunted and killed for food. That they provided other useful items such as furs for warmth, bone for needles, or could be harnessed for load hauling or travel.
Perhaps it came later, as we learned we could gather seeds and plant them for a more permanent supply of food, or domesticate other animals. I wonder if the need to stay in one place and tend to our food supplies led us to settle in groups, build sturdier homes and enclosures, better weapons for protection – not only from other small groups of humans, but from nature, itself – infected us with the madness.
However the infection came about, since the dawn of the fossil fuel era we have exponentially expanded the systems and spread the infection worldwide. Because these systems are non-linear, they are sensitive to small changes occurring along the “edges” of the system. These changes can amplify and reverberate through the various systems because they are co-dependant. Over the last forty years, one such change has been the “usefulness” of the energy entering the system. Production of cheap, high EROEI crude oil has declined and is increasingly replaced with less “useful” oil and fossil fuels. Another change might be in the usefulness of the information transmitted through and among the various systems. In 2008, the unreliability of information transmitted through these various systems from the financial system sent reverberations throughout the various systems, “crashing” the aggregate (pushing it into a “phase change”). What happened in Cyprus may very quickly push it into yet another phase change which will reverberate through the aggregate systems. Because the decreased amount of useful energy entering these systems is pushing them toward a drop to a much lower energy state, at some point these systems will not recover.
And we cannot make up for that drop in EROEI needed to maintain them in their current state with renewables. (Which, the longer we wait, require increasing amounts of that less useful energy to make the equipment to use renewables – which are themselves sources of less useful energy.) So, the madness continues.
I wish I could believe, we’d stop the madness before these various systems collapse, but I do not. Tomorrow when my son comes over to help me carry the manure to the backyard, I will spend the day getting my early garden in. I’ll continue to repeat this process of relearning my place in nature as long as I am able. That is my stand against the madness.
We have trashed our natural environment with the waste we’ve exported from these systems, but only in the sense of its usefulness to us. Nature continues to fight back. Whether, in our madness, we will trash our usefulness to nature remains to be seen. I am not hopeful.