“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Last month’s essay (Time for a Change of Heart?) suggested that there may be a single underlying factor at work in the global epidemic of cardiovascular disease (and in many types of cancer and a whole range of modern “syndrome”-type conditions into the bargain). Not only do compounds of nitrogen have a very specific affinity for the cardiovascular system (they’ve been used to treat these conditions for over 100 years), but the patterns, spread and incidence of the disease worldwide correlate very closely to the extent and manner in which humankind has gone about disrupting the global nitrogen cycle. We are presently estimated to be fixingtwice as much nitrogen into material form as can cycle back into the atmosphere again through the normal functioning of the biosphere. That’s a 100% increase on the input side of the equation.
To even imagine we could blithely mess about with the balance of the global ecosystem to this extent without getting into this kind of trouble seems not only childishly naïve but quite hopelessly stupid. Few, if any, complex biofeedback systems that we’ve studied can tolerate that kind of latitude without serious consequences, so it doesn’t take any great genius to extrapolate that to the global level. (D’oh …!)
What we now appear to be getting as a result of our actions – at least 17 million deaths per annum – is exactly what First Nation peoples have been warning us about for a long time now: “If we fail to [address environmental deterioration] then Mother Earth will cleanse herself of the offending organism that is killing her. This is our teachings.” (Mi’kmaq Warrior Chief and Sacred Peace Pipe Carrier Sulian Stone Eagle Herney in his statement to the 1994 public enquiry into the then proposed superquarry at Mount Roineabhal in Harris.)
It seems quite incongruous really. Even ironic. In the wake of any disaster – including natural disasters like the December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean – there are invariably knee-jerk calls for massive investment in all manner of early warning systems. Yet here we have an early warning system which is functioning perfectly and who’s klaxons have been blaring up and down the corridors of every doctor’s surgery and hospital across the West for the last 60-odd years. And what are we doing about it? We’ve so inured ourselves to the cacophony that we’ve come to accept it as a “normal” part of everyday death.
Is it that it’s simply too big for our heads to grasp or our hearts to hold? We can experience tidal waves of emotion in the wake of tsunamis which carry off little more than 1% of the annual mortality from cardiovascular disease, while the steady blinking out of all those individual lights, so often prematurely, year in, year out, nearly 2,000 every hour, leaves us largely unaffected. Yet in terms of numbers, it’s the equivalent of a tsunami every 5 days!
Is it a case of burying our heads in the sand and hoping it’ll just go away or that nobody will notice? We don’t much like the idea that we might be responsible for the things that go wrong with us, do we? We shy away from that one. Get quite angry about it even. No! It’s got to be some nasty vicious germ-type thing that’s got it in for us. Nothing to do with us, oh no … What us? Stupid? Impossible!
Or is it that we’ve made this way of death a way of life for too many? Global agricultural practices, agribusiness, food supply, processing, distribution, retailing; the tobacco industry, doctors, nurses, hospitals, care-homes, the pharmaceutical industry, the research community, the health-and-fitness industry, other industries that ride on the back of it all – finance, insurance, legal; the bureaucracy that ties it all up in knots, and many more besides … the global disruption of the nitrogen cycle is big business and there’s a lot invested in keeping it that way. Not the sort of thing you can unwind overnight.
“In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
Of course you could argue that we’ve all got to die from something some day. And against the background of an unprecedented explosion in human numbers – the global population is estimated to have quadrupled in the last century, having taken the previous nineteen to multiply ten-fold – perhaps it’s just as well something’s keeping us in check. Trying to grasp the enormity of the global nitrogen cycle or the scale of the CVD epidemic might be beyond us, but big though they might be, they’re still only a symptom of something far bigger, far more insidious, far more deeply destructive. What is heart failure on a global scale if not failure of heart on a global scale? A failure of compassion, of empathy, of the understanding necessary to live in harmony with our environment.
And if, in our failure of heart, we are behaving like a cancer in the body of the Earth, no small wonder that so many of us are dying of that as well. As above, so below.
Yet it’s only taken a generation or so for this particular twisted bloom to flower, even if its roots wriggle way back into the seeds of time. Can we nip the rest of the Bush in the bud? As Stone Eagle said, “It is my firm belief that we, of this generation, have no hope in solving the environmental deterioration that is ongoing as we speak. However, I also have firm convictions that we of this generation, may be able to slow down the destruction of our Mother Earth enough so that the next generation that will be replacing our leaders will find the solutions and the cure for Mother Earth.”
“Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.”