A false sense of security?
For most of the last 50 years, many policymakers, politicians and thinkers have dismissed the 1972 seminal work on sustainable development, The Limits to Growth by American environmental scientist Donella H Meadows and her team, as well as other publications of the public intellectuals group, the Club of Rome. The main counter-augment by mainstream economists critical of Meadows and her ideas at the time was that technological advances would address the concerns for the ecosystem and worries about resource constraints.
But across the planet, in countries and regions regardless of political system or level of development, the desire to pursue the material “American Dream” and consumption lifestyle has exploded. Globalization spurred by multinational corporations and promoted by globalist institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the World Economic Forum has stirred these aspirations, fueling the zeal for lowering barriers to trade and investment and the advance of digitization, telecommunications and transportation technologies and infrastructure. This greater interconnectedness was suddenly truncated in the spring of 2020 when the world began to grind to a halt due to Covid-19.
With the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions in recent months, many countries and their citizens are returning to their old ways of interaction, desperately trying to recapture the pace of pre-pandemic days. The coronavirus is only just beginning to recede – indeed, there are still infection surges across the world – yet all the discussions and reflections at its peak about how society has to move fast and resolutely to reset if only to avoid or prepare for future public-health crises and climate change have already been forgotten. The sense of urgency has dissipated.
Paradoxically, the prevailing economic paradigm and public-sector management model, regardless political orientation, remains grounded in pro-growth orthodoxy without alternative – and without conscious regard for consequences of the transgressing the boundaries and resources of other species.
Restoring equilibrium in the planetary microbiome
Human beings, as social and political beings each made of 30 trillion cells, are totally delinked or decoupled from the world of microbes. As such, they do not see and respect the limits of boundaries of non-human species. Based on the research findings by Human Microbiome Project and Earth Microbiome Project, one can visualize the world as a “planetary microbiome” – a series of rings, with different organisms and species organized in a series of rings, with each inhabiting a different level as determined by their specific requirements for life and activity – from temperature to nutrition, from weather to availability of resources.
If any species tries to break out of its ring – its specific ecosystem – by expanding beyond its pre-assigned or permissible space or consuming resources on which other species rely, then there will be conflict of some kind. The planetary microbiome is a collection of communities – separate yet fully interconnected and supposedly in some kind of balance or equilibrium. The reality is that the interconnectedness of the global marine and soil microbiome, particularly through microbes, support the existence of all higher trophic life forms including humans.
Humans, however, act supreme and can behave as if detached from the planetary microbiome, living and operating in ways that intrude on the ecosystems of other organisms and species. The human race – locked as we are in our growth and consumption paradigm – infringes on the boundaries of all other species and will continue to do so unless we would be willing and able to reset our societies.
In essence, we must recognize micro-organisms, humans and climate are all intertwined. Micro-organisms generate and consume greenhouse gases, and at the same time, they are affected directly by global warming and human activities. The global environmental crisis is largely due to the failure of mainstream economists, policymakers and political and business leaders to heed the warnings about consumption and resource constraints issued decades ago. The world is doomed if this mistake is repeated. The inability of the international community to make the concerted commitments necessary to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius is proof of the detachment of humans from the realities of the planetary microbiome.
This is the time to pause and consider the power of hibernation. This is the time to press the reset button to protect our planet’s immune system. Humans need to begin a new relationship with nature, with other species, among themselves. Conservative estimates indicate that some 10,000 virus species will infect humans if, their boundaries violated, they are stirred and pushed out of their harmless isolation within the ecosystem of wild animals and into the microbiome ring that people inhabit where they can wreak havoc worse than Covid-19.