Two More Steps along the Gaian Way

Every once in a while, someone asks if the Gaian Way has an official position on something. Primarily, our goal is to resacralize the relationship between humans and the living Earth (and all the beings Gaia is made up of), which is a big enough undertaking as it is! But there are some key issues that are not getting enough attention in the environmental community (for one reason or another) and it feels like the Gaian Way (as an organization) should proactively advocate in those specific areas.

As a small group, that might not mean much now (even if Margaret Mead would disagree), but as I’ve written before, the Quakers offer a powerful model in which even few in number, with passion, wisdom, and commitment, a small group can be powerful leaders in a movement—in their case, the abolition, anti-nuclear, civil rights, peace, and global governance movements. How just a few hundred thousand individuals could have had such a huge impact is a case study worth deeper study—and emulation.

With that in mind, there are many key issues we’ve engaged with over the past four years—from nuclear proliferation and guardianship to climate change, from permaculture to sustainable lifestyles, from geoengineering to Earth’s rights. Ultimately, the challenge is that so much has to change to return to a right relationship with Gaia that nearly every battle is important. But there are a couple of issues that are both urgent and under-recognized and thus worth deepening our engagement with: specifically degrowth and protecting the deep sea.

In a moment, I’ll explore each briefly—with future reflections dedicated to deeper treatments of both. But first, the punchline: for those in our community who are passionate about these issues, we are going to create a couple of working groups (or pods) on these. Individuals who want to give some of their time to pushing these issues (and their understanding of them) forward can read on to see how to do that.

A dolphin pod, perhaps exploring new territory? (Image by joakant via Pixabay)


The human species is in an extended overshoot beyond Earth’s carrying capacity (as professor Bill Rees has noted many times, including in this Gaian Way presentation). We must alter that. That means reducing our impact—not just through shifting technologies (T), which is a key piece of the puzzle (as the famous equation I = PAT reveals), although not when the human economy (A for Affluence) and population (P)—particularly the population of global consumers—continue to grow.

Imagine the transition from our overgrowth phase to true sustainability. This winds through a path of degrowth. (Image from the State of the World 2012 cover)

Humanity truly has only two choices: to degrow its economy and humanely and justly curb its total numbers1 to a place in balance with Earth’s systems, or to experience an unplanned contraction, the latter of which will be far more horrific, unjust, and filled with suffering for both humans and countless other creatures (whether coming in the form of conflict, fire, flooding, famine, pandemic, or some apocalyptic combination of all of these).

This is not the essay to expound more. And degrowth doesn’t have to be scary—it can come with more free time, more community, less ill-health, less keeping up with the Joneses for stuff we really don’t need and perhaps don’t even want. There are many books on the subject, but I do think this short introduction is still a good starting point.

The reality is that in the global consumer culture, growth is seen as paramount and even within the professionalized environmental community it is difficult to accept and promote degrowth. But it must be done if we have any chance at a sustainable future.

The Gaian Way has already developed two strategic projects to help accelerate acceptance of economic degrowth,2 though has yet to find funding to accelerate their implementation (which we continue to explore). In the short term, Gaian Council member John Mulrow will share a longer reflection on degrowth and draw together a Gaian Degrowth Pod (GDP) to discuss degrowth and take action.

Protecting the Deep Sea

A second key intervention point—before it’s too late—is preventing the mining of the deep sea. A year ago, theoretical physicist, Anastassia Makarieva, blew my mind when she answered a question of mine in a lecture she gave. I asked a general question about the resilience of Earth in sustaining life in face of devastating ecological change and she explained how the deep sea is the repository of life and in the case of a horrible assault by humans (whether runaway climate change or nuclear winter) it is the deep oceans that will evolve new beings to create a new stable Gaian system.3 If we rip it apart for gold nuggets, this could be horribly destructive—perhaps more devastating than nuclear war from Gaia’s perspective. The next few years will be critical in preventing deep sea mining as a deep sea treaty is currently being negotiated. There are several environmental coalitions working in this realm but it is an issue that remains on the periphery and yet it is critical and urgent. We’ve started researching how to best engage in this realm and will dive deeper into the topic (yuk yuk) in a future post.

So if these are topics that you want to engage more with, share a comment, add your voice, or fill out this form to participate in one, the other, or both.

“Hey, back off! This is my home and the home to future life,” says the deep sea Toadfish (who has walking fins!). (Image from NOAA Ocean Exploration via flickr)


1) Including dependent species, like cows, pigs, chickens, dogs, and cats.

2) We have worked less in the realm of population but this, arguably, is almost as urgent, considering population groups are increasingly unwilling to talk honestly about the need to get to a smaller global population size. This is indispensable, especially as more people are brought into the global consumer class. Normalizing smaller family sizes, better child spacing, adoption, and avoiding unplanned pregnancies (to name a few interventions)—especially in overconsuming countries like the United States—is essential to shift the population growth curve from its current trajectory of 9.7 billion by 2050 to a lower peak (actually that’s not even the peak, with current population projections continuing growth to 10.5 billion in 2100). We need a goal of peaking and then bringing down human population far sooner than that, as every human participating in the industrial economy has a significant and enduring impact on Gaia’s systems. That said, this can be done without coercion, and with many health and societal benefits, as Countdown, Alan Weisman’s excellent book on the subject, discusses.

3) A point that James Nestor also explores in his book Deep.

Share this Reflection:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *