Follow nature and avoid collapse

Life Rules

Life Rules: Nature’s Blueprint for Surviving Economic and Environmental Collapse by Ellen LaConte, New Society Publishers, 366pp, $18.95.

Neoclassical economists, business gurus, the Republican Party and every high school teacher that ever gave C+ to a slacker sophomore would have us believe that human society cannot function successfully without competition among its members.

In life, we’re told, there are either winners or losers. There’s no other option.

So you better be smarter, work harder, get luckier and be born richer than the other guy or gal unless you want to wind up on the junk heap of history. Or even natural history, because, as Social Darwinists assure us, competition governs the natural world too.

I want to be a mushroom when I grow up

Ellen LaConte begs to differ. Her new book Life Rules: Nature’s Blueprint for Surviving Economic and Environmental Collapse argues that humanity today is hardly the natural and desirable climax of eons of evolution of life. Instead, industrial capitalism is more like an infection ravaging the natural order, a kind of AIDS for the Earth, to use her metaphor.

If you study nature, you’ll find that there’s much less competition than cooperation.

“The economic relationships between and among communities at the level of the biosphere are sympathetic and circumstantial,” LaConte writes.

By contrast, industrial capitalism has led to a perfect storm of problems — climate change, peak oil, overpopulation, species extinction heading the list — that LaConte has dubbed Critical Mass,

Critical Mass is the Earth’s equivalent of AIDS…Just as the diverse parts of the immune system are scattered throughout our bodies, Earth’s diverse natural communities and ecosystems have in the past worked together to provide the same sort of protective, defensive and healing services for Life as a whole that our immune systems provide for us….Life evolved its own version of an immune system. And our activities are threatening to undermine it.

Extending this human-society-as-AIDS image  is LaConte’s original contribution to the discussion of peak everything started by environmentalists like Bill McKibben and peak oilers like Richard Heinberg and James Howard Kunstler.

If AIDS is your issue, you may find that extending the autoimmune metaphor over three-hundred-odd pages is a fresh way to explain the unsustainability of industrial civilization. But you’ll need a high tolerance for medical references and word coinages like “Earthonomical” to make it through to LaConte’s conclusion.

Homepage slideshow photo: Gerry Dincher/Flickr.

– Erik Curren, Transition Voice

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