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Last summer, Olga and I drove down to Holyoke, Massachusetts to record a conversation with Eric Toensmeier, author of  The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security. We had a sit-down chat, and then we took a tour of his garden. The last question I asked him was about the concept of "anthropogenic ecosystems."

The word "anthropogenic" is so often followed by the the phrase "climate change," that it's easy to forget that the word has any other potential application. Eric started his remarks with the seemingly obvious statement, "Anthropogenic just means 'created by people,' and not everything we do is bad."

But that isn't an obvious statement, is it? Otherwise, he wouldn't have followed that up with, "Surprise! Surprise! You're not supposed to say that in some environmental circles, I think, but a lot of what we do is good. And historically, a LOT of what we've done is good."

You might say that the evidence for our inherent toxicity is manifest everywhere we look, but, Eric explains, "We are not inherently poisonous to the planet. We are stuck in a system that makes us poisonous to the planet."

When I talk to Eric Toensmeier, we tend to talk about gardening, ecology and science fiction. I don't know what his politics are, and he didn't specify which aspects of the system we live in are the ones that make us poisonous to the planet.

Could it be capitalism? Maybe, but capitalism has a variety of connotations, and not all of them get at what makes humans living under capitalism toxic to the planet.

The Soviet Union created a great deal of waste and pollution, and weren't the Soviets supposed to be the ideological opponents of capitalism? Dedicated Marxists might claim that the operating system for the Soviet Union was "state capitalism." I'm not a Marxist, and so I won't try to make their case for them, but I'm not convinced that "capitalism," whatever that is, is what makes our existence on this planet such a threat to so many of the other organisms that have no choice but to live in the same house with us.

Perhaps our civilization's dependence on fossil fuel energy is what makes up poisonous to the planet. If so, that's good news, because we won't be powering a planetary civilization at the current scale on fossil fuels for much longer. But I don't think fossil fuels is the answer. If we were blessed with a source of limitless, clean energy, like the dilithium crystal-enabled anti-matter reactors from Star Trek, we'd use that energy to turn the planet inside out extracting every scrap of iron, bauxite, and rare-earth mineral to build our gadgets.

With limitless, non-polluting energy, we would continue to strain the oceans for fish and replace the lost biomass with plastic. We would continue to pump groundwater to irrigate our crops and poison the soil with salt. We would continue to increase our numbers so that potential resource would need to be converted into something that feeds, clothes, shelters, transports or entertains us.

I don't think fossil fuels are the only thing about the system we live in that makes us poisonous to the planet. I don't expect to identify the one and only cause of our ecocidal toxicity here in this essay, but a big one seems to be the fact that we're breeding faster than we're dying. That's a good thing, right? Don't we all want to live long, abundant lives? Don't all humans deserve to enjoy the same abundance that the residents of industrialized nations take for granted?

Sure, but there are consequences.



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