The Six Earthen Ways
From the Earth’s billion year process of cultivating the biosphere we can glean the fundamental principles of ecological contribution
In the past we have used the example, ways and wisdom of great human teachers as means of discerning good and bad, right and wrong. However practical this has been for making sense of human living, it is insufficient for the ecological discernment we need today. When it comes to making sense of our place in the biosphere, human centered ethics, are de-facto, inadequate.
However, another great teacher awaits our attention — and we have no further to look than our feet.
In our entire galaxy we know of no other entity that has been so successful in cultivating the very ecological harmony we so long for and aspire to. Truly, the Earth’s process of transforming our primordial barren planet into an abundant thriving biosphere is the penultimate example of ecological enrichment. With our newly gained vantage of the last billion years, we can begin to discern the essential character the Earth’s example. In surveying the planet’s shift from grey to green we can observe six principles that comprise the Earth’s ways:
1. Observe the way the Earth has used its elements as indefinitely circular building blocks.
2. Observe how ecological surpluses are distributed from organism to ecosystem, ecosystem to biome, biome to biosphere.
3. Observe, the way the Earth has concentrated, secured and stored carbon for the long-term.
4. Observe the way the Earth has subtracted more carbon into cycles and storage than it added into the atmosphere.
5. Observe how the Earth has supported life and its diversification.
6. Observe the way the Earth has raised the consciousness of ecological interconnection.
These six principles can be seen from the wide view of a planetary ecosystem — and also up close in the organisms of the air, land and sea. Upon inspection, we can see that the Earth’s organisms are a microcosm of the macro. As the whole biosphere embodied these six ways, so does each of the planet’s biomes, each biome’s ecology and the organisms of each ecology.
Indeed, within the the life-cycle of everything from a forest to a tree, a bird to a flea, we see innate tendencies towards the subtraction and storage of carbon. Meanwhile, those very cycles tend relentlessly towards net-subtraction, diversity, consciousness and the benefit of the biosphere as a whole. Whether the process is minute or massive, ancient or ongoing, in looking closely, we see the same principles reflected and embodied.
All around us, we are engulfed by the verdant consequences of principles applied. You and I, the reading of this very text, are all a part of a vast symphony of organisms and ecologies moving towards an ever greener, more stable, livable and abundant biosphere.i
Over the eons, certain organisms, ages and ecosystems have come to embody a particular principle with breathtaking elegance. As we will see in the next chapters, the grasslands of the Serengeti, the cycle of the Salmon, the age of the Carboniferous, the life-work of the Oyster, the consciousness of a Forest and the example of a Banyan can help us discern the essence of each principle and the part it plays in the character of contribution.
With the correlation between Earthen principles and consequences clear, we are availed a new and commanding clarity. We are assured that by embodying the Earth’s ways in our own processes, they will have like greening consequences. With unprecedented confidence, we can align our longing to contribute to ecological harmony with proven planetary principles.
This is what I call an Earthen ethic.
Using Earthen ethics, we can confidently discern what is green (what is an ecological contribution) and what is grey (what is not contributing). What is green is that which embodies the six Earthen principles and leads to a more livable, biodiverse, stable, abundant and conscious biosphere. What is grey is that which conflicts with any one of the Earthen principles, leading to the opposite — lowering consciousness, reducing biome stability, and livability, and decreasing biodiversity.
One by one, we will examine how each principle manifests in the biosphere and how in turn we can embody it in our own processes.
In so doing we will return to that material that set us off on this journey in the first place. Using Earthen ethics we can better understand our plastic and its processing. As we have seen, plastic is a direct representation of our current play with carbon and the petro-capital economy with which we are immersed. How we have failed to solve our plastic is a reflection of the failure of our industrial attempts at green.
However, by resolving our plastic into an authentically deep green process, we will light the way forward to solve our other ecological crises. In this way, the Earth’s ways can give us the clarity of process, purpose and place in seeing our common home thrive.
This is the fifth post in a series laying out a new theory of Green — what I am calling Earthen Ethics. In the next segment we’ll take a deeper look at the first principles of ‘Indefinite Cycling’ and what it means for our processes, enterprises and technologies.
Next Week: The Cycles of the Serengeti
Russell Maier is based in Indonesia, where he and his partner Ani Himawati tend a food forest garden that provides their fruit and greens. Together they track their household plastic and CO2 impacts. Their monthly household plastic consumption of 0.8kg/month is 14% of the Indonesian average. In 2020 their household CO2 emissions of 2046 Kg were 46.5% of the Indonesian per capita average. Meanwhile, their trees, bamboo, ecobricking and offsetting enabled them to secure 286% more CO2 (5851 kg of CO2 ) and keep 2200% more plastic out of the biosphere than they consumed (5.5Kg). See Russell’s full household plastic disclosure which is independent of his professional work and projects. See also full green impact accounting statement of the enterprise of developing Earthen Ethics and its publication. Russell and Ani are leaders in the global regenerative ecobrick movement.