IMAGINE A WORLD where the way we live is steadily enriching the ecosystems of which we are part. It is a world where our households and communities, just by thriving, make the biosphere a more abundant, vibrant and hospitable home for us and for all our fellow creatures. Rather than strive to reduce our environmental harm, in this world we have come together to maximize our ecological contribution. To do so, the way we manage our matter and energy has shifted. No longer do our enterprises operate merely in circles— so too do they spiral; each spin overpaying its debts and dispersing its surpluses. No longer do our enterprises merely reduce the amount of carbon and other elements they emit— so too do they capture and concentrate more than they let loose. No longer do we merely strive to conserve and protect the planet's ever diversifying tapestry of organisms and ecosystems— so too do we play a part in its weaving. Thriving all together, the awareness of our interconnection ever augments, and with it, the sync of our cycles of enterprise and ecosystem, economy and biome, humanity and biosphere— a harmony rising up with us towards the stars.
TODAY, AS WE BECOME more and more aware of the ecological degradation inherent to our modern world, we yearn to amend our mistakes and to improve our ways. However, as our homes and enterprises unite in a common planet passion, never before has it been more important to recognize that the way forward has already been walked. Dismissed and all but forgotten by our modern civilization, nations ancient and ongoing have long mastered their ecological integration to achieve heights of harmony that our modern view of the world has been unable to grasp or even conceive. Only to the extent that we can recognize these enlightened moments, can we ever imagine our own. And insofar as we can imagine it, the realization of a green age for all is not nearly as distant as many of us are tempted despair.
Inspired by the verdant legacy of Banayan’s people, the Igorots of Northern Luzon,³ she and I have to come to see that the longing and the potential for ecological contribution unites us all on planet Earth.
Across cultures and continents, we long to contribute to that which we are part: to add to the communities in which we belong, to harmonize with our neighbours, to sync with those with whom we share space. Consequently, as the parts we play in our local ecosystems and global biomes becomes clearer, so too does our yearning to participate positively in them and contribute to their harmony, vitality and abundance.
Indeed, Banayan and I have come to see that the transition to households, communities and enterprises that are in-and-of-themselves ecological contributions is the next stage of an epic planetary story whose direction is, quite literally, in our hands.
So how do we arrive at this thriving common home that we all long to see?
Therein this problematic modern material lies our way forward.
As it must be.
Gardeners have long observed that the problem is always the solution— weeds, pests and pollutants are always, with a shift of perspective and approach, the very nutrients, fertilizers and medicines that bring a struggling garden to thrive.⁴
Like nothing else, plastic embodies the definitive facets of our modern moment. Derived from ancient fossilized carbon, plastic allows us to touch the primordial story that has enabled our own. Bought and sold, plastic is a physical manifestation of the petro-capital economy that powers our global age. Crafted by humans, entirely for humans, plastic is a vivid reflection of our modern, human-centered civilization.
In this way, our plastic is in fact a mirror.
And an opportunity.
By confronting plastic's full billion year story, we can face our own within the same frame.
Then, in seeing our reflection with unprecedented clarity, we can know our plastic— and ourselves— anew.
Above all, we can renew our understanding of positive human ecological participation: what green should really mean.
Banayan and I, in struggling to manage our own plastic positively, have come to see that the contemporary concept of green is lacking and incomplete.
Seen through the lens of the ecological ethos of her people, we observe that the modern ethic of green is merely about reducing harm— while the concept of contribution has remained all but un-imagined.
It is a view of human ecological potential that sharply contradicts the lived experience of Banayan and her ancestors.
As we shall see in the chapters ahead, ecological contribution has in fact been the overwhelming tendency on Earth— a unique planetary pattern of matter and energy that, from the very beginning, has permeated all of Earth's processes, cycles and systems.
And our own.
To the extent that this Earthen pattern has been reflected within the values and virtues of a culture, the societies that have ensued have systematically enriched the ecosystems of which they are a part.
Conversely, to the extent that a culture’s pattern has differed from Earth’s, systematic depletion and degradation have been the inexorable result.
The discernment of this Earthen pattern, shall be our chief task in the Tractatus Ayyew.
Through the combination of our two ancestral perspectives, Banayan’s Igorot heritage and my European, her indigenous culture and my settler, her agrarian upbringing and my industrial, we will investigate the shortcomings of our modern ethical understanding. In particular, the misconceived human exceptionalism that we observe is at the root of all our modern ecological malaise.
With this ontological error excised, we shall then lay out a new theory of green anchored upon the cosmological character of our planet.
Guided by the insights of great green nations, the ways of magnificently contributive creatures and the latest insights of Earth science, we shall do our best to articulate each of the principles that compose our planet’s five-fold pattern of ecological enrichment.
The resulting Earthen ethics will help us to make sense of our modern processes, technologies and enterprises by providing a means by which we can discern that which is enriching from that which is degrading; that which is an ecological contribution from that which is a depletion; and that which is green from that which is grey.
In this way, with Earth’s example as our guide to green, can move forward with unprecedented clarity and confidence to embody the geometry of contribution in all our processes, cycles and systems.⁵
To begin, let us turn to that troublesome material we so love to hate.