Take It to the Limit One More Time

Planet Earth has always operated within limits–almost like an organism. But too there have been “accidents” that overwhelmed natural processes and created eons of disorder.

Runaway climate shifts of the past carried the land or sea beyond a state where life-as-usual could go on. Volcanoes erupted, continents smashed together, or a stray meteorite created a “nuclear winter” that set the state of living things back a few hundred million years.

But for the most part, long stable periods on Earth have been adequate to allow species to diverge and disperse, biomes like coral reefs and prairie and tundra to develop and forests to reach climax stability–what we would call OLD GROWTH forests today. It is almost non-existent in our times.

And for the first time in Earth’s history, we are thinking about the fact that our one species can perturb conditions in the air, soil and water sufficient to push natural resilience to and past the breaking point. And so there is growing talk about Planetary Boundaries.

Of note in the diagram, the light green is AGRICULTURE’s part in pushing the limits. Note for how many of these 9 boundaries land-care (the literal meaning of agri-culture) is a contributor.

We must change the way we wage war on the landscape, and begin to think intentionally about how we relate to and contribute to the well-being or dis-ease of the land. Margaret Meade said it well:

We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment.

And yet in our arrogance and ignorance we act as if we can push the limits–beyond the breaking point; beyond tolerance; beyond carrying capacity. Somehow our engineers and technological wizards will find a way, just in the nick of time, to cheat the odds so that we do not become yet another once-great civilization on the dust heap of environmental failures that have gone before us.

I will be looking a this soon–on February 11 at 2pm at the Floyd library. Topic will be “Living in Our Forests: From Ice Age to Anthropocene. Barbara Pleasant and Jane Cundiff will also have boots-on-the-ground information to share, along with this thirty-thousand-foot view of things.

This bit of it just bubbled up as I was looking back at my notes. Morning pages, you know.

More on Planetary Boundaries at Wikipedia.

Author: fred

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

3 thoughts on “Take It to the Limit One More Time”

  1. Well, not having my Masters in Biology certainly doesn’t help me decipher the chart! But you know I am with you in concern about our beautiful planet. Thank you for beating the drum over and over, Fred!

  2. Thanks for hanging in there and taking my beating (drum) over and over. A drum beating in the forest. Makes no sound?

    The graphic is better understood by reading the wikipedia article; and there are many others on planetary boundaries—facts we now know that should create a sober and clear-eyed resolve to pull back from the precipice and not push the accelerator to the floor.

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