From space, our planet looks like an ever-changing marble. To an alien civilisation, the massive white storm clouds constantly shifting over oceans and landmasses would have probably suggested that this is one messy, stormy, unstable and unwelcoming place. Perhaps one that is even on the verge of some kind of an apocalypse, ready to implode under the unbearable weight of all this turmoil. This would certainly not be an exaggeration if we were talking about our planet’s formative, “genesis” phase.
Yet over the past 3.5 billion years, our planet has had plenty of time to figure out, by trial and error, how to achieve the impossible: to balance earth, fire and water, the violent forces that have brought it to life. Somehow it did what seems like a physical impossibility, what could be the most difficult balancing act in the universe: developing systems that balance energy, temperature, atmospheric gas concentrations and tectonic processes while all of these processes are in fact constantly on the move. Achieving this would be the equivalent of a circus artist succesfully joggling magical balls whose weight and size randomly change mid-flight.
The genius of Earth was to embed this very instability in weather, ocean, volcanic and other processes into the actual balancing mechanism. As part of the new balance, all natural processes were bizarelly allowed to continue to flux: to vent out their anger and competition against each other as much as they liked. The purpose of this was to get the “family” to find a compromise around the dinner table somehow, even though they were all throwing utensils at each other. In a closed system where there is nowhere to run, eventually everyone meets their physical and mental limits. Yet in the end it is their physical limits that bring each and every one of them back to the table, this time willing to negotiate.
Bitter rivals exhausted by the war, the Earth’s forces began to strike treaties with each other, agreeing to disagree. Because they had to. If too much CO2 comes out of volcanos, photosynthetic organisms will accelerate to absorb it. If they in turn grow too fast, a virus or other species will control them. Hundreds of treaties were signed. In fact thousands, millions probably, more than we will ever discover. And somehow through these arrangements, everyone at the dinner table managed to have an appetiser, main course and dessert. Because the size of the pie had never changed. There had always been enough on the table for everyone.
When life emerged on the planet, it had no choice but to obey the same exact principle: all species were balanced not by some higher force, but by each other. This was also called the Biosphere, as it was literally an Earth within an Earth. Our concept of an “ecosystem” began to emerge as we gradually realised how interdependent the species were. Just like the inanimate forces, we realised that the population curve of each species is flattened, kept in check, by either another species or the availability of resources. If the population of one species overshoots, this is followed by a spectacular collapse back to a small population. This is not because of some “higher justice” or sentient desire by Earth to maintain biodiversity. It is an extension of the same physical laws that prevail between the inanimate forces that shaped our planet. Just like these forces, species are competing for the same pot of energy: whether it is thermal, electrical or chemical. Energy may change forms, but the total amount never changes. KiloJoules, Watts, Degrees Celsius, ATP, Glucose, Fatty Acids are all interconvertible. They are all energy. They are all valid forms of currency.
Except money. Money is a currency, but it is not in itself energy. It is an abstract representation of energy. When a bank decides to independently, arbitrarily increase its capitalisation by printing money, this bears no relation or effect to the energy that this money actually represents on the planet, whether it is the effort an employee has put in, or the biological energy supplied by a bucket of apples. By inventing money, humans had invented a “rogue” energy currency, one that simply does not mathematically compute on this planet. This of course, was to their advantage. Because by controlling the exchange rate, essentially setting it to whatever they liked, they could get as much energy as they could out of Earth, most of it in fact for free. In this way humans, as opposed to the other forces of the planet and all the other species, became net energy consumers: draining the planet’s energy. Capitalism significantly accelerated this process precisely because it was driven by the concept of Profit which, in energy terms, in planetary terms, means stealing energy that doesn’t belong to you. But remember, we are still sitting on that dinner table. And everybody is beginning to point their knives and forks to one party that has been consistently ignoring the treaties: humans.
As a result of Capitalism and Profit our economic activities, our governing systems and social organisation, our ethics and values, in other words our entire civilisation, were all molded to accommodate this impossible principle of exponential increase in energy. From “The feeding of the 5,000” parable in the Bible to “Jack and the Beanstalk” our culture, our religion, the tales that we told our children, were all shaped to make us believe this, believe that we lived in a miracle world. These archetypes of Capitalism were actually present in our culture even before the invention of money. With this level of delusion in our blood, it was unavoidable that we would soon develop an incredible amount of arrogance. We started believing that we were not from Earth. That we were better than everything and everyone else on the planet, and as a result this meant we had the right to exploit them. The other species were here “for us”, not “with us”. We accepted our destiny as that of “conquerors”, “explorers”, as it was the perfect image to complement our arrogance. Our heroes became the conquistadors, billionaire businessmen, football players and pop stars: all those who achieve Profit.
As our impacts on the world began to show visible signs, our culture continued to build stories and facades, many of which invented to cover up it’s narrative of destruction: blacks were not slaves, they were simply animals that had been brought in to work. Species weren’t “made extinct”, they “went extinct”. Natural resources were not exploited or exhausted, they were “utilised”.
And we, the participants of this system, all became hostages to capitalism. Ordinary people became hostages to their jobs and salaries, and to consumption. Companies became hostages to the stock market, which constantly scans their bottomline for any signs of a lack in profitability. Politicians became hostages to achieving economic growth, as opposed to quality of life improvement for their citizens. And climate scientists became hostages to their research grants, avoiding to tell the truth for fear they will be seen as doomists and excluded from bids.
Capitalism is, by itself, the biggest fake news that ever existed. The most successful propaganda campaign ever. A propaganda we all believed in because we all thought we had something to win from it. Instead this regime has become a dictatorship. It has hijacked our planet’s biotic and abiotic systems, and as it comes under increasing stress it is beginning to turn on itself. A collapse is inevitable as a zombified planet begins to wake up. It’s dinner time again, and humans have a special seat reserved on the table: they are the food.
Although there is no doubt the planet will find its balance again, this will be at the expense of one of the most prized miracles of the planet: Life, humanity included.
to be continued…(or not)