Apex and AnthropogenyPosted: February 12, 2015
Almost a year ago I wrote about how we need to embrace our status as the apex predator on planet Earth. On the surface, this sounds terrible. It carries all sorts of connotations about resource mining, planet raping, etc. That, of course, is not what I have in mind. Being a self-aware apex predator means embracing our role as the anthropogenic steward of nature.
Stewardship is a powerful concept. As a former Catholic, I hate how the word has been reduced to a very base connotation of pleading for money and volunteer time (at least in America). That’s not what stewardship is. Stewardship is, at its core, guiding something (x) to reach its full potential (x-ness). Stewardship transforms, not by imposing a mold from without, but nourishing the spark from within.
I’ve written about being the steward of my house. I take that role very seriously. I want the Alchemist, myself, our three goblins, and even the small piece of the planet we
own have mortgaged to live to their full potential, to flourish. In our urban environment this requires careful management of money and time, but we slowly expand our resources to things that are renewable – the soil web around us. Joel Salatin uses this wonderful image of living in harmony with the earth, the womb that nourishes us.
Conventional modern life is a terrible bifurcation. On the one hand, we have the rapists*. In the Humanure Handbook, the author likens humanity to a pathogen which expands so fast and so toxicly that it consumes its host (the earth). Humans who mine the earth, pollute it, and leave it a worse place than they found it are not apex predators. They are viruses – but where will these viruses find a new host body? Makes you think, doesn’t it?
On the other hand, we have the cowards. The ones who recoil from our apex status and insist only non-anthropogenic land is natural, and only natural is good. Wrong on many counts, but two major ones: we have no reliable historical account of ‘virgin’ land, because human beings have co-evolved with everything around us. While evolution has happened over a long time-scale, even in our brief few seconds in the earth-universe, we’ve shaped species succession incredibly. Moreover, where we have allowed the ‘natural’ to re-succeed, it is inferior in health in many ways. Most ecosystems can only sequester enough carbon and biomass to generate 1″ of soil in a century. A stewardship-oriented approach can do this in a year. Humans working with nature means healthier humans and healthier ecology. A tour of any permaculture-designed farm or homestead bears this out. The biodiversity is off the charts compared to ‘natural’ succession.
Stewardship requires love. Seek first to understand. Observe. How can we shape the land to give what it wants us to give? We are co-evolutionaries. Stewardship requires courage. Then to be understood. We must pick up the shovel, saw, excavator, even fire. Yes, fire.
Succession in a health ecosystem requires disturbance. Often powerful disturbance. Only then can we break inertia and begin to shape, nurture. Then rest. Recovery. Growth. Gentler disturbance. We nudge, coax, coach. Together we reach a pinnacle of health not possible without cooperation.
Are you a rapist? A coward? Or a steward? Every choice has a ripple effect of consequences. Think on it.
*This is strong language, used intentionally. I can’t think of a better way to describe what’s happened in so many parts of the globe like the massive topsoil depletion in America, the rampant pollution in China, the collapse of water supplies everywhere, and the wars required to secure resources necessary for technological ‘progress’.