‘How To’ Manual for Saving the Planet: “Abundant Earth; Toward an Ecological Civilization”

Aug 13, 2019

Science is warning us, that to avoid wholesale destruction of life on earth, we need to change the way we grow, fish, and ship, food and goods around the globe. And literature is telling us how to go about it. A Virginia Tech Humanities professor has written a new book that lays out scenarios for turning things around, that could—well— save the earth. It’s about living in harmony with nature, instead of dominating it. 


Much of the reporting on the state of the environment is extremely negative, says Eileen Crist, who teaches in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences “and what I wanted, through the title and a lot of the content of the book, is to offer a positive message and positive vision.” Crist’s book is called, Abundant Earth, a phrase that describes the intrinsic quality of this planet she calls the most “artful entity of the known universe,” which has constantly renewed itself. “So, what I want to argue in the book is, we can live in that world,” and that we can have a modern civilization that is nestled inside such a rich planet.”

But it’s going to take a paradigm shift like nothing before ever seen; a shift in the way we humans think about and behave on this planet. “I call this (current) world view ‘human supremacy.’ It’s not my term. It’s used in the literature” by many writers, whom she sites in the book.

That humans reign supreme here, she says is a nonconscious but ubiquitous assumption. How could it be otherwise? Who is there to challenge us? “So, what I try to do in the book, is to unmask that world view.  This is a kind of academic exercise that I’m trying to make more available. The idea is, when you shine the light of awareness on it you begin to, we can begin to let go of it.” It’s vital to do this Crist warns, “Because we are losing the planet because of this assumption that essentially the earth is ours to do (with) as we will.”

She cites examples as vast as the midwestern prairie. The prairie was America’s biggest biome and the now the vast majority of it is agricultural fields. And grazing. So, this assumption, that we can take over the whole biome and turn it into human land use” or treat the oceans like they’re “our food pantry.” It’s not going to work for us going forward. “So, we need to begin to change the food production in such a way that we grow our food and we take our food from the wild in ways that are friendly and harmonious with wild nature.

In terms of land, we need to shift toward Agri-ecology. That means, “No longer using pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that are huge pollutants and that destroy a lot of life.” And we need to completely redesign our economies.  We warned you this was a total paradigm shift. We need to move away from this ‘throw away economy’ that’s constantly creating new models, new designs, ever new cell phones laptops TVs cars. We have to get away from that kind of economy. We need a durable economy that’s made to last, we need to make stuff that we learn how to share, that when it breaks, we fix it, that’s recyclable, reusable or biodegradable.

Crist points out, it’s not like we haven’t made huge cultural shifts before. Slavery existed for hundreds of years; women were seen as inferior. So too, could we do away with the notion that the “non-human world is nothing more than an exploitable, killable, resource.”

She shares what she calls her “unabashedly romantic point of view, that human beings, we are in love with this planet. Everything on this planet is our family. But there’s something, a kind of conditioning, that we’re special, that we’re diff that we have an entitlement to think that we can do as we will, (with this planet). I think when that world view is unmasked that that love will shine through.”

READING: “We know through earth’s history that earth creates abundance of life, diversity of life forms, multitudes of wild plants and animals, complex ecologies, evolutionary unfolding and amazing phenomena such as animal migration. Why would we not choose to have a modern global civilization within such a life abundant planet? But right now, we are losing this abundance of life and heading toward a mass extinction event. Mass extinction does not have a technological solution. It cannot be fixed later. If we allow it to happen it is what we will bequeath to all future generations. Let’s not allow it to happen.  Let’s choose a planet of abundant life.” 

Eileen Crist’s Book is called, Abundant Earth; Toward an Ecological Civilization.