The "Mother Earth" Analogy
For several years now, I’ve been an unfaltering optimist. Even too much so for some people – for a lot of people actually. But I guess this is the natural difference between optimists and pessimists. Indeed, for many people it becomes more and more difficult to be optimistic in the sight of environmental crises, economic crises, social crises, and so on. Not for me. There are several reasons for my – at first glance – seemingly unreasonable optimism, one of which being what I know we can do with permaculture principles and the speed at which we can do it. This will be the subject of this article.
What never fails to astound me is the reigning pessimism within ecological groups fighting for the environment, for a better quality of life, and for people to realize how important nature actually is. Even within permaculture circles, pessimism is an all too frequent illness. Can you imagine? People fighting to build a better world often do not even believe that it is possible to achieve their goals; they fight but do not believe in victory!
Hence, as it so often happens, I was recently trying to explain my optimistic point of view, as well as my certainty in success, to friends also working in permaculture. As usual in those situations, I had to think hard to put my feelings and thoughts on the matter into words that are clearer, more precise and better understandable. While doing so, a particular analogy occurred to me, almost as a revelation…
The analogy is not new: it is the Mother-Earth or Mother-Nature analogy, meaning that the Earth can be seen as a mother for humanity and all living creatures. The concept of “Mother-Earth” has indeed been present within humanity for thousands of years, and it is still present today. This universality did not occur per chance. There are in reality many resemblances between, on the one hand, a mother and her small child and, on the other hand, the Earth and humanity. The Earth is the one carrying us around as a mother does, except this is not only at the beginning of our lives but for all of it. The Earth is the one providing us with food as a mother does while pregnant and later with her milk. And at least in the time of cavemen, the Earth provided humanity with protection within her womb, as a pregnant woman does with her unborn baby. Basically, we can see the Earth providing us with all our basic needs, as a mother does with her child.
Normally, in what we usually hear today, the analogy stops there: comparing humanity with an unborn baby or a small child. What I suddenly realized is that we can extend this analogy much further. As we grow up and take our life into our own hands, our mother as well as the Earth cannot protect us from our own will or our own bad decisions. A mother can give us warnings; she can try to make us see the mistakes we are doing. But eventually the decisions remain in our power. In the same way, the Earth can give us warnings that we are on the wrong path, for example with climatic variations and extreme climatic events destroying our unreasoned food production systems. Through air and water currents and their changes, she can show us the absurdity of our behaviour, for example with the garbage island forming in the Pacific Ocean. As we continue to pollute the environment we live in, she can try to show us our mistakes by giving back air, water, and food supplies of degraded quality. But still the choice of the path we are following remains with us; each of us can continue this self-destruction or start changing and help build a wonderful world for all of us.
Right about now I suppose many people reading this text are wondering why this makes me optimistic. Well this was not the bit I found full of hope. The analogy continues further. When a real mother (at least the archetype of a mother) sees her child finally realizing his mistakes, wanting to do better, to reconnect with her, she welcomes him with open arms. It does not matter how wrong he was. It does not matter how ungrateful he was. It does not matter how far astray he went. She welcomes him without delay, without questions, ready for ages to help however she can.
This is what makes me an optimist. I believe that Nature, the Earth, again, react the same way as this archetypal mother when we decide to be beneficial to our environment and to ourselves instead of destructive. And I think that we often underestimate the speed with which this response will come, as so many of us often underestimate the ability of our mother to welcome us with open arms. I believe that Nature “wants” us to thrive and live in abundance and that everything is already in place for it to happen. We just need to decide and do it.
Why do I believe this? Well, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the permaculture movement and examples of successful permaculture (or other) systems were the key for me to understand how hopeful our situation actually is. There are indeed many examples of the speed of response from nature, as soon as we decide to become a beneficial element to the system and be intelligent about it. An olive oil farm in Cyprus started the transition to permaculture and three years later, their olive oil had a world record concentration in healthy compounds (1). A farmer in France cultivating corn (among other things) made the transition to permaculture principles and within two years, he could make 10 times the money he previously made with the same surface, without using industrial chemicals and improving the soil's health as he goes (2). Within a couple of years, a landowner in Australia managed to transform his eroded, dried, degraded, and salinized piece of land into a flourishing, water-retentive ecosystem which, ten years later, still had plenty of water flowing during one of the worst drought in the region, contrary to surrounding lands (3). Farmers on a heavily degraded land in England began to observe nature and co-create with her, giving her all the space she needed, and within a few years their land became one of the more diverse and productive system of their surroundings, harbouring several rare species not to be found anywhere else in the region (4). Geoff Lawton, an Australian permaculture designer and my permaculture teacher, started a greening the desert initiative in Jordan. In less than 8 years, where before was only a desert with salinized, dried, degraded soil, he and his team rehabilitated the soil and created a flourishing food forest in ways that were thought impossible before (5).
The list of such examples goes on and on, and one thing they often have in common is that extern people thought the results impossible and laughed at or even fought the methods used. This is a lesson to remember; I believe that much of the pessimism surrounding us comes from the fact that people think impossible what I know is possible. In reality, we already have the solutions to solve all of our problems, we can apply these solutions quickly and efficiently, and the incredible positive results will come much faster than we use to think. I do not believe this all too common idea that “if we wait too long, it is going to be too late”, especially after seeing a food forest growing in the desert and water coming back to it (5). I believe this because I believe that Mother-Earth is only waiting for us to work with her and that she will respond to our change of mind with a generosity difficult to imagine; and everything I see in permaculture confirms it. This does not mean that we won’t need to put in any efforts in the coming necessary changes. It simply means that, if we really want to change, or rather when we will really want to change, everything we need will be ready and Mother-Earth will help us achieving our goals.
Jessy Loranger, 2019