(Published in GralsWelt special issue 18/2006)
Nature does not produce unusable waste. Only we humans unbalance ecological cycles - to our own detriment. The life-sustaining systems of our home planet suffer from serious undesirable developments:
Actually, we humans have known for millennia that there are things that grow back and that there are deposits of raw materials that are emptied when they are extracted; so that there are renewable and non-renewable resources.
Already in the Stone Age, hard stone and salt were extracted in mines that sooner or later were exhausted and could not refill by themselves.
Early experiences were also made with overuse of renewable resources, for example with overgrazing by domestic animals, radical deforestation, salinization through irrigation. Provide famous, frequently cited examples Plato (427-347 BC), who speaks in "Kritias" of the destruction of Attica by cutting down its forests, and the Roman naturalist Pliny (23-79), who described climate changes as a result of human interference.
The fact that closed cycles are a prerequisite for the continued existence and further development of life organisms on earth can already be read in the biblical promise to Noah:
"As long as the earth exists, sowing and harvesting, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night should not stop." (Genesis 8:22).
One would therefore not have had to wait until the 19th century to use the example of the heat engine to understand that a continuous process presupposes that the initial conditions have to be re-established so that a new cycle can begin.
The development of life on our earth was only possible through natural cycle processes that can remain stable as long as the sun supplies our home planet with energy. Incidentally, the sun's energy production is an “open process” that is expected to continue for billions of years, but will one day come to an end in a grandiose finale.
In the practical implementation of well-known necessities for environmental protection, however, thousands of years of experience stand in the way:
We assume that humans are small and the earth is immeasurably large, and that the rubbish we leave behind, as well as damage caused in the struggle for survival or carelessness will be eliminated by nature within a few decades "by itself".
Even today we need strong advice to stop us from dumping our rubbish in the forest or littering platforms with cigarette butts. Against their better judgment, many do not want to perceive that today's garbage consists largely of substances that cannot be easily integrated into nature's cycles (plastics, chemicals, poisons, heavy metals, etc.). Even the degradable waste - concentrated in a small space - accumulates in such large quantities that natural processes cannot break it down quickly enough.
In addition, most people underestimate the extent to which we use the capabilities of our planet:
· The total biomass of life on our planet is around 1,850 billion tons. A tremendous number; yet it means only a tiny fraction of three billionths of the mass of the earth. The whole of humanity has a share of less than 0.1 per thousand (less than a ten-thousandth) of biomass (which in turn consists of 99 % plants).
· By far the most important and extensive production on our planet is photosynthesis in plants. It is around 172.5 billion tons of biomass per year, of which around two thirds are produced on land and one third in the oceans.
And now the surprise: "The 'flyweight' man" - with a share of less than 0.1 per mille in biomass - "today already consumes more than a tenth of the gigantic primary plant production on land in order to feed itself and its livestock." A large part of the biomass is produced in forests and is largely eliminated for human consumption, so that the proportion of primary production in nature that is already used by humans cannot easily be increased significantly.
These figures underline: The possibilities of the planet earth are already used abundantly by us humans; According to some ecologists, it has long been overused!
It would be timely not to preach further economic growth any more, but to look for an economy that uses the earth's resources economically. But the false impression, ingrained in millennia, that the earth is so big and the individual human being so small that human interventions cannot unbalance the overpowering nature, cannot be easily corrected. Therefore, economy and politics often act as if we were living on an infinitely large earth with inexhaustible resources.
The individual's lack of responsibility for their own future is also at play here, supported by the thought that one only lives once. This opens the door to the setting:
"Why should I take larger contexts into account, what do I get out of it? "
The idea of “genetic survival” in children is, as it turns out, an insufficient incentive for a greater sense of responsibility.
For this reason, too, it would be important for the individual to recognize that he is lying to himself with the thought of only living once. And we bear responsibility not only towards the next generations, but also towards the Creator.
The cycle of life
Only nature has understood how to close the cycle between raw material and waste and thus to give a home to life for billions of years. Because nature realizes closed cycle processes that can remain stable for an unlimited period of time.
In its long development, life has also changed its environment itself. For example, most of the oxygen in the air is produced by assimilating plants. The humus cover that covers the mainland today and forms the basis of plant life here consists mainly of organic degradation products, and the carbon dioxide content of the air is the result of a natural balance.
And so we are already at the crucial life support systems of our planet: the natural cycles and self-cleaning through these processes.
The most important cycle processes in nature are:
· The water cycle;
· The oxygen-carbon dioxide cycle
The carbon dioxide content of the air is the result of a dynamic equilibrium: Assimilating plants produce oxygen from carbon dioxide and generate biomass. When plants and animals break down and when plants and animals breathe oxygen, carbon dioxide is produced. Burning fossil fuels (occasionally also through volcanic eruptions) shifts this balance.
· Nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, calcium and other indispensable elements go through further cycle processes, which are absorbed, converted and given off again by living beings.
Hardly any of the many natural cycles works on its own; they are networked. Because natural processes are usually linked to other processes through interactions. They are more sensitive and complex than it seems at first glance, and attempts to recreate a closed biosphere on a small scale have so far failed.
The interacting natural cycles form the organic life-sustaining systems of the “spaceship earth”.
The life cycle between production - the structure of plant and animal life - and waste (e.g. dead bodies) is almost completely closed in nature. The inorganic substances necessary for life - above all water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and minerals - are taken from nature and given back again. In this way, these substances can always serve new life as long as our sun supplies the globe with the energy necessary for all life processes. There is therefore no rubbish in nature: the rubbish of one is the basis of life for the other, and in the whole complex interplay that we call organic life, no substance arises that cannot be used by nature's household.
In the course of the billions of years, organisms have become more and more complex, structured, and complicated, and all setbacks (for example due to natural disasters) have been overcome or even used as opportunities.
Continuous existence and ongoing development exist for the entirety of organic life, but not for individual living beings whose lifetimes on earth are limited.
And in the case of the human body, these individual, perishable organisms form the possibility for spiritual beings to incarnate again and again as human beings on planet earth, to develop themselves personally and to build up a culture.
Breaking out of natural cycles
Let's take a look at the production process of our economy: until not so long ago, our economy was also largely integrated into natural cycles and only had a destructive effect to a limited extent - for example through slash and burn, salinisation with too intensive irrigation, careless clearcuts, overgrazing, etc.
A century ago there was hardly any non-natural waste on a farm. There was hardly any metal scrap or broken glass, and everything else could be burned, composted or otherwise recycled.
This changed dramatically in the 19th and especially in the 20th century: unnatural waste, i.e. waste that cannot be incorporated into the natural cycle, is created in increasing quantities and has to be dumped in huge garbage dumps. There they form a latent danger for the groundwater if they do not lead to the fear of far worse damage: lead, cadmium, chlorides, chlorofluorocarbons, nitrites, nitrosamines, mercury, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and countless other poisons get into the natural cycle that affects them Substances - at least in the resulting quantities - is not adjusted.
Our industrial processes are almost all one-way processes or “open processes”. A one-way street leads from raw material extraction via the production facility and retail to the consumer, from where most products either end up in the garbage or - like the abrasion of car tires - are distributed over large areas. Only some of the raw materials used can be recovered from the waste, the rest is irretrievably lost.
The legacy of the earth
Nothing can disappear in nature, no matter can escape our planet (at most as a spacecraft), but only a part of civilization garbage, such as scrap, can be recycled.
Our civilization is currently built almost exclusively on irreversible (irreversible) processes, on only one-way processes that have to deplete even the largest raw material deposits.
As far as our material base is concerned, we live on substance, consume the earth's non-renewable resources, and do not want to acknowledge that we have to distinguish between our "income" and our "inheritance".
Our income is the goods that constantly grow back and can be renewed. Our heritage consists of the earth's treasures, which must last for all people and for all times, since they are only formed anew - if at all - in geological time periods.
We are racing towards collapse
Functioning natural cycles are the prerequisite for the long-term stability of our living world: The substances necessary for life must go through cycle processes in which initial states are restored so that another cycle can then begin. As already mentioned, this can even be read in the Bible, in the “promise to Noah”, which promises the people after the flood continued existence on the basis of “renewable resources”. There is no mention of metals or petroleum in this promise.
Our civilization has decoupled more and more from natural conditions for around 5 millennia: “With arable farming and animal husbandry, the technical abilities of humans and the productivity of nature are in balance. With the invention of metalworking, human technology began to make demands on nature which it cannot meet in the period in which the biosphere will remain habitable ", writes Arnold Toynbee in his book "Mankind and Mother Earth".
The widespread use of non-renewable resources (metals, fossil fuels, etc.) enabled the development of high-tech civilizations. But a society based on non-renewable raw materials can only exist for a limited time. The time horizon may seem infinitely distant at the beginning of the use of non-renewable raw materials, but every civilization built in this way is rushing towards its expiration date.
Currently, the growth of the world population and the exponential increase in economic output, which is considered necessary in our economy, are causing the demand for energy and raw materials to rise ever faster. A civilization built on a dwindling basis is racing towards collapse at increasing speed.
There's a lot to do - let's wait and see!
There have been widespread warnings about this expected collapse since the 1970s at the latest; but there are also much earlier warnings that mostly went unheeded.
For decades, every ecology book and many ecology lectures (including my own from the 1980s) have pointed to the need for closed processes and the effects of the exponential growth in population, industrial production and waste. The fact that some widespread prognoses prophesied the feared collapse for the end of the 20th century and were thus wrong does not mean that they tend to be wrong.
However, there are also optimists who rely on the constantly evolving technical possibilities and expect a future in which all people - in the developing as well as in the industrialized countries - will live better and better.
Such optimistic forecasts provide our managers with an excuse to carry on as before. You can hope that the chaos to be expected will only come after your personal lifetime, according to the popular motto: "There is a lot to do, let's wait and see!"
Because we humans are a strange species: We build our societies on inveterate habits and (sometimes quite one-sided) denominations with controversial ethics, but we even react with violence when someone questions our prejudices.
Attempts have also been made several times to subject the whole world to a religion (limited in its intellectual insight) or to a (highly questionable) ideology.
Purely speculative philosophical theories (such as that of Karl Marx) served as a justification for forcing hundreds of millions of people against their will to new ways of life.
But we generously overlook clear, indisputable natural conditions when they contradict our wishful thinking.
Ultimately, however, we will be forced to adapt our society and civilization to the principles of creation.
(1) Gleich, M. et al., Life Counts. Berliner Taschenbuch Verlag, 2000.
(2) Gruhl Herbert, A planet is plundered, Fischer, Frankfurt 1975.
(3) Hagl Siegfried, The Apocalypse as Hope, Droemer-Knaur, 1984.
(4) Heinrich Dieter, dtv-Atlas zur Ökologie, dtv, Munich 1990.
(5) Lomborg Bjorn, Apocalypse No !, zu Klampen, Lüneburg, 2002.
(6) Meadows Dennis, The Limits of Growth, dva, Stuttgart 1972.
(7) Myers Norman, Gaia, Fischer, Frankfurt, 1984.
(8) Toynbee Arnold, Humanity and Mother Earth, Claassen, Düsseldorf 1979.
(9) Vester Frederic, Our world - a networked system, dtv, Munich, 1983.