The Michael Pollan quote that inspired the new name for this site,
“transforming the body of the world into our bodies,”
involves human beings connection and relationship to the earth and its ecosystems. On the one hand, it is true of all species that they transform some part of the ecosystem into their own bodies. As some of have put it, something must always die for other things to live. There are cycles of relationship, mutual dependence, interconnection, competition, cooperation, and symbiosis throughout planet earth.
On the other hand… homo sapiens have manipulated their environment, especially in the last 150 years or so, to an extent never before seen in the planet’s history. We have gone way beyond beaver dams, nest building, or other examples of animals manipulating their environment.
It’s true that the planet’s global ecosystem is huge, and for individual humans, it still seems that the planet is massive, too big in fact for little old homo sapiens to have a significant effect on its ecosystems. However, consider several factors that make homo sapiens a species that can transform the body of the Earth like no other: the industrial revolution, the extraction of natural resources, and the population explosion.
Throughout 99.9% of homo sapiens existence, they have largely depended on hunting and gathering which did not significantly transform the body of the earth in order to sustain their communities. The three factors above changed the game forever for our species. Industrialization made it possible for humans to multiply their labor using machines and engines whether it was for transportation, mass production, or agriculture. This meant that our ability to consume resources multiplied.
Of course, fueling these machines also meant extracting more resources. The discovery of fossil fuels created another great leap forward in which a massively dense energy source allowed humans to transcend previous limits on their ability to produce and consume resources. Think of it this way, all energy that is consumed or used on this planet comes from our sun. Hydrocarbons, or fossil fuels, are stored solar energy from thousands and millions of years of life on earth. This solar energy was stored in plants which were then eaten by animals which in turn were eaten by other animals. The stored solar energy from millions of years has been used within the last 100 years at an ever-increasing rate. New technologies allow us to extract more and more from the earth, but it does not change the fact that this is a finite resource.
This industrialization and extraction make it possible to support a larger population of humans on the planet. Over 7 billion homo sapiens currently live on the planet. This would never be possible without industrialization and extraction of super dense energy sources.
So we have transformed the body of the earth in ways that have put our own existence and survival at peril. The scale of homo sapiens life and activity on the planet can and does affect its natural systems in large and destructive ways. Recently the highest low temperature ever recorded on the planet was 109 F in Oman. That was the LOW temperature!
If we hope to survive our own ingenuity, we will need to learn to find ways to transform the body of the earth for good, applying regenerative and resilient practices to our use of the planet’s resources.
Photo of the entrance to a mine in Potosi, Bolivia. Credit bolivianing.com.