People who spend a lot of time in touch with and learning about the natural world (like gardeners) soon become aware that nothing in a natural ecosystem is ever unused waste. What looks like waste—for example, animal droppings or dead leaves—becomes food for other organisms. Nutrients cycle round and round forever. Only in a man-made system do things become linear. There is waste—materials that do not feed other beings but go straight into a landfill or on the side of a road or into the rivers and oceans. And man is also the creator of plastic that, so far, no organisms can digest, so it seems that it will last forever, undigested and intact.
The following is an eloquent essay on this phenomenon printed in “Resurgence and Ecologist” magazine in the September/October 2016 issue. We would do well to choose to live under the laws of Earth and revise our economic laws to coincide with Earth’s laws. No better place to begin than in our gardens.
JUST SO MUCH, AND NO MORE
By Donella Meadows
The first commandment of economics is Grow. Grow forever. Companies must get bigger. National economies need to swell by a certain percentage each year. People should want more, make more, earn more, spend more—ever more.
The first commandment of the Earth is Enough. Just so much, and no more. Just so much soil. Just so much water. Just so much sunshine. Everything born of the Earth grows to its appropriate size and then stops. The planet does not get bigger; it gets better. Its creatures learn, mature, diversify, evolve, create amazing beauty and novelty and complexity, but live within absolute limits.
Economics says: Compete. Only by pitting yourself against a worthy opponent will you perform efficiently. The reward for successful competition will be growth.
The Earth says: Compete, yes, but keep your competition in bounds. Don’t annihilate. Take only what you need. Leave your competitor enough to live. Wherever possible, don’t compete: cooperate. Pollinate each other, create shelter for each other, build firm structures that lift smaller species up to the light. Pass around the nutrients, share the territory. Some kinds of excellence rise out of competition; other kinds rise out of cooperation. You’re not in a war: you’re in a community.
Economics says: Use it up fast. Don’t bother with repair; the faster you use it up, the sooner you’ll buy another. That makes the gross national product go round. Throw things out when you get tired of them. Shave the forests every 30 years. Get the oil out of the ground and burn it now. Make jobs so people can earn money, so they can buy more stuff and throw it out.
The Earth says: What’s the hurry? Take your time building soils, forests, coral reefs, mountains. Take centuries or millennia. When any part wears out, don’t discard it: turn it into food for something else.
Economics says: Worry, struggle, be dissatisfied. The permanent condition of humankind is scarcity. The only way out of scarcity is to accumulate and hoard, though that means, regrettably, that others will have less.
The Earth says: Rejoice! You have been born into a world of self-maintaining abundance and incredible beauty. Feel it, taste it, be amazed by it. If you stop your struggle and lift your eyes long enough to see Earth’s wonders, to play and dance with the glories around you, you will discover what you really need. It isn’t that much. There is enough.
We don’t get to choose which laws—those of the economy or those of the Earth—will ultimately prevail. We can choose which ones we will personally live under—and whether to make our economic laws consistent with planetary ones, or to find out what happens if we don’t.
Submitted by Ann Guthals