It’s a truly humbling to walk though my neighbourhood on an October afternoon and see an enormous sweet-smelling peachy rose in full bloom. I’m talking about the kind of rose that stops you in your tracks and invites you to absorb the aromas and touch the fragile petals. The flower is merely there to serve the simple function of reproduction. The shape, colour, texture, and that beautiful perfume are there to entice little bugs and beetles inside, covering themselves in pollen so they might carry it to the next flower. The two organisms live in symbiosis; the insect is rewarded with sweet nectar for its services.
There are other relationships too: between the rose bush and the microbes in the soil, between the insect and it’s predators, and hundreds more that have all taken place in the same manner over the past 3.8 billion years to allow me to stop and smell that rose.
Observing the interactions between organisms within an ecosystem is like listening to a symphony orchestra, only this orchestra has no one conductor and each musician can only hear the sound of their own instrument. There are breathtaking examples of perfectly coordinated interactions in every corner of the planet. A little bit of digging will reveal thousands in your own backyard.
Although it is true that there are some things that set humans apart from other organisms, these are trivial when compared to the similarities we share. Like every other species on this planet, human evolution was made possible only by the ecological services provided by rivers and streams that purify water, an atmosphere that regulates temperature and complex cycling of nutrients – pheromones that have been occurring for billions of years, long before we learned about them.
Recently, these ecological services have been put in grave danger. Waste products of animal agriculture are causing dead zones in the ocean, bees that pollinate food for us and other species are being poisoned with pesticides, and rainforests that we so desperately need right now to absorb CO2 from our atmosphere are being cleared.
The symphony that has been playing magically for 3.8 billion years is falling apart. Humans are on a rampant fossil fuel spending spree, laden with death and destruction. Within our generation we will lose all kinds of habitats to spatial shifts in climate, white beaches will be replaced with sea walls to protect cities from rising sea levels but, more urgently, we face losing our food security and access to clean water. We enjoy convenience handed to us in a single use plastic wrapper but, in that moment of pleasure, we fail to see that we are creating a world less liveable.
The solution to this problem will be more than just behavioural changes, we must first change our mindset, bridge the separation between cities and the ‘natural world’ between human society and the environment. It’s paramount that we understand how deeply intertwined our lives are with the climate crisis. Once we do, it will become strikingly obvious that we must change the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the amount we buy, and what we wash down the drain. The earth is a closed system, everything you buy uses up recourses. Almost everything you have ever thrown out, certainly if it contained plastic, still exists somewhere on earth.
In today’s world it seems there is no problem technology cannot fix. But we can’t turn sunlight into sugar like plants can, we can’t fabricate habitat for marine life, we can’t pollinate enough plants to feed the world, we need other Earthlings to do that. We need them to give us life. There is nothing a human can construct that will ever compare to the complex and wondrous natural world. From a single rose in your neighbour’s front yard, to a monsoon, everything on planet earth is connected – our lives are just one piece of the puzzle. We now have a choice in what sort of impact we will make on the planet, and those choices will return to us as sure as an echo.