Life, Integrated

What does it mean to be a Quinte Biosphere Defender?

We’re all pretty aware of environmental issues these days, and we have a general sense that biosphere is an environmental word, so it sounds like a biosphere defender would be an activist concerned with protecting the environment. But it’s so much more than that, and that’s because of the integrated nature of the biosphere.

According to Wikipedia, the biosphere is “the global ecological system integrating all living beings and their relationships.” I’ve italicized the last few words there, because they’re key to understanding not only the biosphere, but our relationship to it.

We tend to compartmentalize things, breaking them up into small units. We pick one part of the lake to clean up, or try to save one species of bird, and while those efforts can be somewhat effective and are very important, all too often we neglect the cumulative impact of every other part of the biosphere – especially our impact. Because we’re part of the biosphere too, and our activities impact every other living member of the biosphere even more than their activities impact us. So while we’re busy trying to save one piece of the puzzle, the biosphere is the whole puzzle, with many pieces that are invisible to us.

This can feel discouraging, because we want to help and it’s difficult for us to even conceive of the entire biosphere at once, let alone address it all at once. It is a complex, integrated system, and we don’t even know all of its parts! But it does give us a sense of what it might mean to be a biosphere defender.

First, to be a biosphere defender we have to recognize that we are part of the biosphere. We too are integrated into this natural system, whether we like it or not. We tend to talk about “nature” as something that is separate from “civilization”, but that’s a false division. We can no longer pretend that we are capable of removing ourselves from the biosphere, or that what we do in our cities doesn’t affect life in the bay. We are all connected to every other creature through our shared environment and resources, and what we do has an impact – positive or negative.

Second, it means that we have to see the bigger picture. This means not only recognizing that our small actions might have a big impact, but also looking for systemic changes that have cumulative impacts. For example, it might seem like a small thing to wash your car in the driveway, but when you consider that the chemical detergents that went into the storm grate collects with the detergents from every other person washing their cars, and all ends up in the bay, then it becomes clear that the cumulative effect of non-biodegradable soap, or lawn fertilizers and herbicides, or microbeads in facial washes, or other harmful but seemingly insignificant products or behaviours can have a big impact. To defend the biosphere, we need to keep our eyes on the big picture to see how small changes made by thousands of people add up to big changes for the biosphere.

Third, when we recognize that we are part of the biosphere, we must also recognize that all of our human systems and relationships are too. While the natural world is primarily integrated through physiological systems, like water, air, and food, humans have created social systems of culture and law, communication and economy, that further integrate us with each other. We have a hard time seeing these things as part of the biosphere, but they connect us to each other, they influence our behaviour in relation to the rest of the biosphere, and they are the ways that human beings change. Recognizing the way we are integrated with each other and with the biosphere, we must also recognize that although it is reasonable that improving our relationship with the rest of the biosphere will require us to change, we must also recognize why we currently behave and consume the way we do, and therefore why some changes are harder to make than others. We also need to recognize that a solution for the biosphere must be a solution that works for humans, because we are a part of the biosphere. This means that we must be just as concerned about unsustainable human social systems as we are about unsustainable resource consumption. Gross inequality, poverty, food insecurity, and other issues are examples of imbalances in the biosphere – they are inherently unsustainable, and they lead to further imbalance for the non-human members of the biosphere.

So to be a biosphere defender means to recognize the integrated nature of all life, and to defend and support all life – human and non-human. And to be a Quinte Biosphere Defender means to pay special attention to the natural and human systems in the area around the Bay of Quinte, from Brighton through Prince Edward County to Deseronto.

With that in mind, we’re concerned about local food systems, economic systems and issues, ecological concerns, and other things that impact our local biosphere. Right now we’re paying particular attention to the proposed Energy East pipeline (including the proposed reversal of Line 9), which is not only potentially problematic for the ecological systems of this area due to the likelihood of leaking bitumen, but is also part of a problematic economic system that depends on increasing bitumen production and consumption despite the effect this has on the climate. We’ve also paid special attention to Bill C-51, a law that potentially limits the ability of groups like ours to defend the biosphere. And we’ve protested the government that passed C-51, a government that systematically stripped away the systems we had in place to limit our negative impact on the rest of the biosphere. We continue to engage with our government in various ways, using our voices to help hold the current government to their promises and press them toward more sustainable and just policies. We also hope to use this blog space to keep you aware of public events, issues, and opportunities to engage in the Bay of Quinte area.

We are the only members of the biosphere capable of understanding and directing our impact, and we are responsible to do so. Join us in defending our biosphere! Drop us a line on the Contact Us page to find out how.

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