Historic Redemption Is an Ecological Necessity

Idealism has become the new realism. Without an end to war, or at least the threat of war on the Euro-Asian land mass, the human ability to adapt to its environmental constraints will continue to be at odds with historic geopolitical conflict. Therefore, if you believe that ecological limitation is a scientific reality (like gravity and Newtonian physics), then the moral pursuit of peace has become as necessary to human beings as the natural constraints on growth that are placed on any living creature.

Throughout all of history, human beings have understood that nature’s bounty is as tenuous as the weather. Through their own creation of agriculture, humans have mimicked G-d’s relationship to the earth. In the Jewish religion, the blessings of this species-unique, Divine-human partnership come in both reality and symbol as rain for the crops. Without rain, G-d shows his disfavor toward the moral inadequacies of his people. Because of G-d’s love for all of his creation, Jews are commanded to love each other and all people.

But what happens when famine strikes, an infrequent yet not uncommon historical occurrence? Famine has been an historical test for humanity, a test which men and women have dramatically failed. Famine has been the destroyer of human decency and morality. Over the course of history, humans have chosen the recourse of empire and war to achieve the necessary food in order to survive. But this has meant the enslavement of nations and the organized murder of people. Through the efficiency of killing machines invented for war and the capture of land and crops, some nations survive, while other nations perish. But from the time of Joseph’s interpretation of an Egyptian pharaoh’s dream — of seven lean cows devouring seven fat cows — the Jewish answer to the dilemma of G-d’s disfavor has been both repentance and human-ecological restraint.

Human history, however, has been a history of war, not repentance and ecological restraint. From very early on, the Jewish people have been big losers in humanity’s quest for geopolitical supremacy. Israel could not compete with the myriad empires that expanded from its north and east in their quest to overcome the horrific natural catastrophes that have plagued the agricultural environment. Only in the last one hundred years have the Jewish people been reborn on their own land. But that was after two world wars, and an attempt at genocide by Nazi Germany. Zionism was not a religious movement, but a desperate attempt at existential survival at an unparalleled moment in Jewish history.

But the Jewish return to geopolitics comes at a moment in human history equally unparalleled in its existential dangers for both the Jewish state and all the peoples and states of the world. The proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East is a very dangerous proposition (eight years from now Iran will become the new North Korea). But another world war will (in all likelihood) be a nuclear war. If such a disaster were ever to occur, it would result in the total radioactive contamination (fallout) of the world’s agricultural bounty. This would mean the very destruction of the living soil itself. Such a happenstance would place the future of agriculture (the very basis of civilized life on earth) in grave danger.

In other words, to escape famine by recourse to war throughout world history, humanity now risks permanent and total global famine caused by the very modern instruments of war. This irony of world history can only point to the existential bifurcation point whereupon humanity must now choose between war or peace as its structure of global organization. Redemption comes at the moment of supreme truth. Weapons of war — which were originally invented to protect nations from famine by recourse to power over other nations — now have the power to destroy all of human civilization in the blink of an infant’s eye. Ten thousand Chernobyl-like events can happen at the push of a button.

However, there is another side to this quest for geopolitical dominance. The clash of nations and empires have caused a perpetual race toward financial riches through the amassing of economic power. In our modern times, economic power has meant geopolitical power. But how far can economic power go before the embedded restraints of nature become unraveled? Ecological models tells us explicitly that for all the world to live the life-style of the United States (the world’s greatest military power) the resources of three planets similar to earth would be necessary. This, of course, is an impossibility. But this global restraint doesn’t mean that a multitude of nations aren’t aspiring to the same economic consumption level as the US. As this irrational race for economic power proceeds, the consequences for the earth’s ability to adequately control the waste products from this endeavor (CO2 among others) has now become catastrophic in and of itself.

Back to square one. Humanity now risks agricultural collapse because of its lack of ecological restraint due to its quest for economic and geopolitical power. The notion that economic growth can be perpetual is an atavistic reflex of a human history seeped in perpetual war and conflict. Only cancer can grow as a permanent system. That is, until the time comes that its growth destroys us. However, isn’t the same now true for war, empire and unrestrained economic expansion? To dominate the world economy is the goal of the hegemonic superpower. But there is no such thing as the human domination of nature (G-d’s Creation). Creation was Divinely conceived with limitations. To understand limitation is not only to understand nature, but also to understand the very Laws of G-d governing the treatment of all human beings. We as a human species have now reached the point in our history, that in order for us to survive, we now must now urgently learn to live peacefully with both nature and each other.

Global warming is quickly destroying the ability of humans to maintain their greatest invention, agriculture. Human civilization is only as strong as the air and soil upon which this truly miraculous invention breathes and rests. Agriculture has always been a tenuous human mechanism. It is balanced precariously within a living ecology that is finely-tuned for success, but always at the mercy of strict ecological parameters. It has never been a fool-proof system of permanent local survival. However, at this moment in time, agriculture is now being tested as a universal system. The heating of the planet caused by the overuse of carbon energy — in the global quest for economic and geopolitical power — is now playing havoc with long established weather patterns at an alarming rate. This scientific fact is now directly interfering with our human ability to grow crops, and therefore to survive.

The latest example (in a long list of examples) is the majority of the global lettuce crop. Probably caused by altering weather patterns due to global warming, the conditions for growing lettuce have been dire in both Europe and the US. Most lettuce in the US is grown in the irrigated Southwest. But global warming has increased temperatures and altered rain patterns dramatically in this region for the last half century. In Europe, agriculture is less reliant on the US-style of the corporate-plantation model, yet the effects of rising temperature and uneven rain have had a similar outcome for lettuce.

The same can be said for other vegetables and the failure of fruit crops that require bee pollination. Bees have been severely impacted by global warming, through the spread of alien microbes and bacteria into habitats defenseless against their attacks. Bees and other pollinators have become our window to the future of global warming. Can we truly countenance a world devoid of apples and hundreds of other common human and animal foods?

Global warming is too great a systemic threat to human communities to simply excuse it as a natural phenomenon. Fifteen out of the last sixteen years have seen record breaking temperatures on planet earth. This is far beyond the statistical odds of any kind of unnatural weather pattern. Even though there is a huge tendency among economic elites to deny the man-made global warming disaster, the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff now calls the phenomenon a serious strategic threat to America and the world.

Human history has reached its moment of truth. Without global peace, there can be no chance of human economic and ecological cooperation. However, balancing the human design of a livable economy in harmony with the restraints of nature will require an historic new geopolitical reality — the reality of nations living in harmony with each other. In other words, what humanity requires to survive is nothing less than the redemption of human history — an era of peace and cooperation unprecedented among people and nations. Morality has now become our new scientific reality, a unique historical synthesis of the “ought” with the “is”.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).