The Sanctuary Voices of Reason Series
Go Wild… For a Change
by Vance G. Martin
“Our climate is on steroids” is the catchy metaphor used by Dr. Gerald Meehl of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado. One of those rare scientists with a flair for communication, Dr. Meehl makes a good comparison when he likens greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to steroids in the body of a champion athlete. Steroids alone do not create the champion competitor – rather, they create an enhanced environment in which other factors such as training, diet, and attitude are better able to combine to cause the effect. Similarly, while greenhouse gases in the atmosphere do lead to a rise in temperature, they also, more importantly, create an enhanced situation in which other existing phenomena such as weather patterns like La Niňa/El Niňo, jet stream fluctuations, etc., can interact in varied and more extreme ways to create what is called climate change.
While this metaphor is apt, it only describes the condition we face, not the cause of it. In response, you might say that the cause of climate change is the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. That is the physical cause, yes, but of course there is something deeper that we need to address, i.e., the human activities that fuel the release of these greenhouse gases, which in turn hasten climate change. Actions such as political awareness, legislation and policy are important, but they still only address the symptoms. If we want to cure the condition, we need to address its cause.
To get to the root of this situation (and subsequently create a more effective solution), let’s shift our metaphor to one of illness and cure. The human race is addicted to growth, greed, and consumerism with a narrow outlook that regards nature simply as a supplier of materials and services expressly designed to satisfy personal wealth and pleasure. Many of us treat nature as though it exists for our benefit, period.
Of course, everyone needs a measure of prosperity and a decent quality of life, but the system of assuring this cannot be one-sided, from supplier to consumer to landfill. Nature operates in cycles that physically replenish, restore, and evolve it: the perfect model for sustainable living. Humans need to recognise and value the source of the materials and services they use. Not recognising and responding practically to this reality results in continued, narcissistic, self-inflicted harm… the definition of addiction and a form of insanity.
We can be certain that physical deterioration, social disruption, decreased lifespan… a series of crazily varied, increasingly challenging, but not unpredictable events, will follow. Erratic behaviour, mood swings, and personal issues will increase, and the insanity will become noticeable. In the one-way relationship model between nature and human society, the effect of the human addiction to wealth, greed, and consumerism is the production of greenhouse gases – the inevitable by-product of the type of energy we use and the environmental destruction required to satisfy our desires. Unpredictable weather patterns, droughts, insect infestations, and other such things become commonplace. Wild times become the norm.
Courtesy The WILD Foundation.
Wild times often require a wild solution… and some wild thinking
Fearing climate change might well get the juices flowing and some initial solutions started. But fear alone is a short-term jolt, and if sustained over the long-term, always leads to resentment, irrationality and/or despair.
I choose to rather view climate change as a type of intervention not dissimilar to that of an addict’s family intervening to cure him/her. We could be in the midst of a “Gaian intervention” in which the collective intelligence (and compassion) of nature we call Mother Earth – who provides the materials and services that make life possible for her entire, large and diverse family – uses the huge, almost overpowering force of climate change to get the attention, and hopefully cure the addiction of, a human species whose behaviour has violated the family trust and security. Once the attention is focussed on the core cause – the addictive behaviour – the next part of the solution gets even wilder. Protecting and interconnecting wilderness areas is a direct, ethical, scientifically sound and inexpensive part of any overall strategy to address climate change. Here are a few of the many reasons:
Mitigation – i.e., Leaving wild nature alone and thereby stopping (or slowing down) climate change before it accelerates. Fully, 25 per cent of the carbon released into the atmosphere comes from destroying wild nature, such as burning forests and converting land for agriculture or construction. This amount will only increase once scientists quantify the release of even more potent greenhouse gases, like methane and nitrous oxide that are released when peatlands, tundra, and wetlands are destroyed. This is one of the most effective, low-tech, and inexpensive things we could do.
Adaptation – i.e., helping nature and human society react successfully to climate change that is already occurring. The changes upon us are already forcing (or allowing) species to move towards cooler or warmer areas, up, down and across a land or seascape. By protecting and interconnecting wild areas, we create corridors and reserves to allow for these movements, preserve biodiversity, and more.
Resiliency – i.e., enhancing nature’s ability to respond to stress. When anything is under stress it calls on its reserves to meet the challenge, similar to saving cash in the bank for those unpredictable, but inevitable emergencies in life. Wildernesses are Earth’s cash in the bank, so when something like climate change increases the stress, Earth can draw on the services provided by wildernesses to withstand, respond and innovate.
Courtesy The WILD Foundation.
The key role of wild nature in an effective climate change strategy was the motivator for The Message from Merida (https://bit.ly/Zv8aSJ) that emerged from WILD9, the 9th World Wilderness Congress (WWC) in Mexico in 2009 (www.wild9.org). After being used around the world as part of the NGO input to the Kyoto Protocol process, it is now being further expanded as part of the growing international movement of Nature Needs Half (www.natureneedshalf.org) that will form one part of the 10th WWC (Spain, October 2013, www.wild10.org). WILD10 is working to ‘Make the World a Wilder Place’. Join the movement! The “Gaian intervention” is our opportunity to take the first crucial step in curing our addiction – recognising it and “owning” it. Then we can get on with the healing. In the process, we will learn that going wild is not going crazy… it’s the right and best thing to do.
Vance G. Martin is President of The WILD Foundation www.wild.org
Author: Vance G. Martin, First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXIII, No. 1, February 2013.