The Sickness of Gaia

Our living planet is very, very sick. Gaia is very, very ill. The oceans are sick. The forests are sick. The rivers are sick. The web of life is sick. The planet is sick in all its members, and that sickness extends also to the individual in mind and body, and to the cities, societies and nations of Man.

That our world is deeply, and profoundly sick is the first truth we must recognise and acknowledge before we can do anything about it. The obstacle here is denialism. As any MD will tell you, it is not uncommon for someone to deny the diagnosis of a very serious and life-threatening illness. Denial is often the first response to such a diagnosis. Before any progress can be made against the life-threatening condition, we must get beyond denial.

This is the first truth about our times we must affirm — Gaia is sick. The planet is very, very sick.

In any diagnosis, we look for the causes — the aetiology of the disease, malaise, or malady. The generally accepted diagnosis is that the disease is anthropogenic — that the human ethos and attitude towards the Earth and Nature is pathogenic. As Heraclitus put it, “ethos is fate”, and we are seeing today that our contemporary ethos is fatal, nihilistic, destructive, and thanatic.

This is the second truth of our situation. And if we were to step outside our narcissistic self-interested bubbles of delusion and self-deception we would see that it is so.

The human is not the pathogen. It is the ethos or general attitude that is the pathogenic factor. This is fortunate because it can be rectified. An ethos is mutable, convertible, changeable, transformable. Were it not so, there would be no possibility of an authentic “metanoia” or “new mind”, which is the primary theme of The Chrysalis — the urgent need for a new ethos, a new metanoia — one grounded in the principles of health and healing (ie, “integral”).

Metanoia begins as “an unwillingness to continue”. Recognising that Gaia is profoundly sick, and that Man’s ethos is the pathogenic factor here, raises the issue of our potential for a real “metanoia” — “to think anew”, as Rosenstock-Huessy describes it. This is what we have been exploring and promoting in The Chrysalis as William Blake’s “fourfold vision”.

As you may know from your own experience of illness, when you are ill your body naturally begins to mobilise those inherent resources necessary to overcome the illness. The body also is an ecology that mirrors the Earth’s own ecology. It is not always successful in surmounting the difficulty, as the damage to one or more elements of the bodily system may become to severe to overcome. This is the state called “homeostatic failure”, which is the official definition of death. Likewise, we are reaching that threshold where the Earth’s own powers of recuperation may not be sufficient to overcome the Earth’s own homeostatic breakdown — what Chaos Theorists describe as a “state far from equilibrium” — in which case we would witness the unimaginable: planet death.

Recognising that Gaia is very, very ill, and acknowledging that the contemporary human ethos is implicated as the pathogenic factor (anthropogenic), but also affirming that this ethos is mutable, many today have put forth a prescription for our convalescence from the pathogenic situation (“the Pathocracy”). This goes by various names, but it is all based upon the same insight into health — Regenerative Culture (Daniel Christian Wahl), Ecological Civilisation (Jeremy Lent), Metanomics (Rosenstock-Huessy), Circular Economy (Kate Raworth) and, of course, William Blake’s “fourfold vision”, Jean Gebser’s “integral consciousness”, and David Bohm’s “rheomode” of thinking or Aurobindo’s “Integral Yoga”. All are, nonetheless, ecologically oriented forms of thinking and each of their modes of thought could (and sometimes is) explicitly represented in and as a mandala as the new symbol of a new equilibrium of the powers as “fourfold vision”.

The way back to health, the way to convalescence, lies through the mandala (also recognised in Richard Moss’s The Mandala of Being). The symbol of this new being of radiant health is the Tetramorph, ( who is also Blake’s “Albion” on his “Glad Day” when he rises finally from his slavery in “the dark Satanic Mill”). The Tetramorph is also the form of Carl Jung’s “Integral Self”.

Nonetheless, we will not survive or arrive at this goal without the painful witness to the aforementioned truths. At this juncture, it is only narcissism and cowardice that hinders us from acknowledging that Gaia is very sick and that our collective attitude (or ethos) is the pathogenic element implicated in that sickness, and until we do recognise this, we will continue to dig our own grave, and the term “Late, Great Planet Earth” will become a self-fulfilling prophecy of deadly, nihilistic finality.

We can avoid that, but only if we accept the diagnosis, and thereby begin to contribute to our Earth’s and our own healing and convalescence.

19 responses to “The Sickness of Gaia”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Discovered a new voice on this theme of regenerative culture yesterday. Jeremy Lent on “Ecological Civilisation”

    View at

  2. Dwig says :

    I’ve read similar prognostications recently; thinking positively, this proliferation may signal a kind of “global awakening” among humans.

    Even if such a thing isn’t going to come, I don’t think that Gaia is in mortal danger. Human extinction is quite possible, along with the many species whose extinctions we’ve caused, with more to cone.

    However, Gaia is a tough old gal; in her lifetime of 4 billion years or so, she’s undergone several mass extinctions, and bounced back every time. She’ll likely recover from this one, with our without us. A few centuries or millennia hence, life will be teeming again.

    • The Oak of Normal says :

      Classic Fatalism…

      • Dwig says :

        Well, not really. I find a number of hopeful signs “blossoming”, as people explore and evolve “Gaia-friendly” ways of living, even in the shadow of global folly. (Just a few names: Slow Money, Abundant Community, Doughnut Economics, Community Resilience, degrowth.)

        I also take comfort in the fact that that it’s extremely unlikely that humans, however badly they deal with each other and the ecosystem, are highly unlikely to be capable of destroying all life on the planet. (After all, if the Chicxulub meteor couldn’t do it, nor could the other mass extinctions, I doubt that we can.)

        • The Oak of Normal says :

          Glad to hear it, keep up the hope Dwig. Was just reacting towards “When us idiot humans leave the planet” kind of vibe and I for one think we are in the very least going to have one big blow out before all’s said and done in the best way possible. It’d be a shame not to after all of the terribleness as mentioned by you.

  3. Yeffen Ray says :

    This is excerpted from the above. Mark Vernon is a psychotherapist.
    And, all of this sickness is not to refute the spin/turn di-synchrony of which the microcosm in formation is the macro-cosm within disynchronous time…

    [Blake’s vocation as a visionary and a thinker, as Northrop Frye stressed in his study of the man, Fearful Symmetry, (1947) the sense of his immortality arises with a recognition of the conviction upon which Blake bet his life: human (‘I’s), imagination/psyche not only capable of entertaining fantasy, also, many of Blake’s contemporaries regarded him as eccentric to mad. But by differing accounts, rusts are as evident as blooms in the corporeal time. And, this is corporeal praxis by alteration in perception in action, and individuation; hence, the ‘I’s turning in perpetual process, as earth is the same at different turn-scale… WHAT IS THIS ABOUT, EVERYTHING “TURNING”?]

    [[pCivilisation itself tethers the brink. Blake’s critique of ‘dark Satanic Mills’ now appears prophetic; his advocacy of the need for ‘Mental Fight’ to liberate imagination/psyche sounds like a calling/turning. When coupled to creative skill and penetrating thought, (revealing truth) the existence, life-per-expatiating/equating the realm of the unseen, most of which is imperceptible, (*or non-loca) then converts everyday incidents into altering (discontinuous/continuous) perceptual as if actual, immanent experience, underpinned by recursion to i-inductance, i-capacitance, i-resistance and ‘i’s-conductance.]]

    No human can adequately ascribe origin for conductance…

    *this is the quanta for which comprises all taxonomy, all praxis, all macro/micro di-synchrony, this built by corrections, folding, turns/spins. And, this is purportedly how we derive intelligence…

  4. says :

    Interesting, Seems to me that the human is the cause of the attitude and ethos, hence he is ultimately the problem.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Not really. Some cultures have an ethos of Being, others and ethos of Having. It’s not predetermined in any way. We can chose and ethos of Being over Having, or vice versa. But the latter has caused us many, many problems.

      • Dwig says :

        Interesting; I hadn’t thought of it that way. Are there cultures with an ethos of Becoming?

        Hmm, perhaps so; I recently re-read F. David Peat’s “Blackfoot Physics”, in which he describes his native friends as having a language based on “process”, where verbs are more central than nouns. Robin Kimmerer mentions that too, in her book “Braiding Sweetgrass”.

        • The Oak of Normal says :

          Love that book:) The way we talk is a big part of the problem…I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like I’m similar to a toaster!! Everything is a verb.

      • AA says :

        Are you referring to Erich Fromm’s terminology, the ‘Being’ and ‘Having” mode ?

  5. Charles says :

    A world is dying. The relative is confused with the absolute and the absolute is confused with the relative.

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