Naturepass - the large-scale death of animals, plants and ecosystems - is core feature of the Anthropocene Epoch.
A role of the Vitan is to witness naturepass events, either in person or remotely.
The practice of witnessing naturepass and the associated rituals are referred to as Quietus.
Some naturepass events are particularly important for Quietus, such as mass whale strandings, large scale deforestation, or the death of endangered species or critical habitats.
Quietus has a number of important functions, including:
- enhancing empathy, wisdom and experience for Vitan Ministers
- fostering an intense emotional experience that reinforces ecophany
- informs them so they can accurately communicate the events
- emotionally prepares them for their own death
- provides opportunity to give Solastalgia Care to others
- where possible, trying to make it better
The population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have seen an alarming average drop of 68% since 1970, according to the 2020 Living Planet Report
Humans behave like 'unsustainable super predators' according to the science paper titled: The Unique Ecology of Human Predators.
In late September 2020, hundreds of long-finned pilot whales entered the narrow entrance to Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania and stranded on the shallow sandbanks. Despite herculean efforts by rescuers, many hundreds of the whales perished. About a quarter were rescued. This Vita Quietus commemorates the whales and the human rescuers.
I’m looking at the images of hundreds of long-finned pilot whales, stranded on the sandbanks, and washed-up against the shores of Macquarie Harbour in Tasmania.
Despite the fact that I am looking at this through the internet, I feel deep sense of unease.
I am reminded of the phrase, the Defaunation of the Anthropocene, something that rather I’d have as a scientific concept than an observed reality.
But here it is, in front of me. On my screen. Mass dying of wildlife today. The Anthropocene Epoch is the era in which humans are the main drivers of change in the environment and climate.
I empathise with the suffering of the whales, as I know what it is to be an air-breathing mammal.
And I empathise with the suffering of the people who helped the whales, because I am two thousand kilometres distant, viewing the event through the internet, and I feel distressed.
And I recognise the depth of my ignorance about these things.
So I have been researching, watching, reading, listening. Seeking knowledge about long-finned pilot whales.
And I am reminded that I have actually met pilot whales, like these, on my adventures on commercial fishing boats: tuna long-liners off the East coast of Australia.
Yes, I remember, now, standing on the bow. I saw a pod of pilot whales, their bulbous heads rising above the surface, in the distance, between the waves.
Pilot whales like to eat hooked tuna, you see. An annoyance for fishermen, particularly for the skipper, who’s the boss of all things on a fishing boat.
Fifty miles east off Frazer Island, I watched a 23-year-old skipper aim a 22 calibre rifle at the pod of pilot whales.
To this day I wonder why I didn’t call him to task. Why didn’t I lower his rifle to raise his awareness?
You see the worst natural disaster of all is human inaction in the face of crisis. The solution is to take action.
What happened in Macquarie Harbour was a natural event.
Whales strand. Dolphins strand. And in particular, pilot whales strand.
Nature is cruel. Everything born, dies. No exceptions.
This tragedy was extraordinary for its scale, and the beauty and remoteness of the location.
Remote, that is, for the people watching the tragedy from the internet or TV. Myself included.
But it was not remote for the people who lived close by; the people who experienced it. The people who saw it. Heard it. Felt it. Sensed it.
It was not remote for the people who were there.
For those folk, it was not an incident that could be turned off by changing channel, or browsing a different webpage.
And for those people, there is a danger.
Something happened, and a story was formed about that thing.
The danger that the experience becomes an enduring story. A bad story.
For some people, the story will grind against them forever:
· I should have pushed harder
· I should have got there sooner
· I should have prepared for this day
· It was my fault
But, it wasn’t your fault.
It was a ‘natural’ tragedy. It was nature’s fault.
Gregarious whales, a narrow channel, vast harbour, sand-banks, weather-driven tide… It was an accident waiting to happen.
You helped make it better. Dozens of pilot whales are back in the ocean because of you.
Hold this thought for a moment, and maybe realign your story one more time.
In some ways, this natural and yet tragic event is an exception to the rule.
The Anthropocene Rule.
The Anthropocene Rule is that when there is mass death of animals, plants or ecosystems, there is normally the fingerprint – make that the boot-mark – of the human race.
The Defaunation of the Anthropocene is described in detail in the recent Living Planet Report that says nature has been reduce more than 65% since the pop-band the Beetles put their music out in the 1970s.
A commentator recently suggested that the report really ought to be named Dying Planet Report.
Much of the mass-killing of nature is due to the destruction of natural habitat, to be replaced with farmland and cities for human habitat.
Another factor is that the climate is changing because we humans have yet to square-up to and euthanize the fossil fuel industry.
If climate change were a truck traveling at high speed then nature is the rabbit stunned into inaction by the headlights.
If by chance the rabbit escapes the truck, where will it go? Its habitat has been consumed by the humans.
The 2018 science paper titled Transitions of the Earth System in the Anthropocene says that when global temperatures rise 1 – 2 degrees above where they ought to be, nature triggers a ‘cascade of climate tipping points’ driving global average temperatures six degrees higher.
That’s the equivalent to a rerun of the Permian Extinction, a mass extinction event called the Great Dying. 90% of nature was wiped out, 253 million years ago because of the mass release of greenhouse gas.
Through the fossil fuel industry, humans are doing the same thing, albeit one hundred times faster.
Unless we change course, it lights out at 11 for nature, with the mammals (including the humans and pilot whales) in the first tranche of extinctions.
And we are already more than one degree above baseline.
We are in a climate and ecological emergency.
An existential, mass-extinction event is unfolding before our eyes.
Our civilization is out of time.
Our biosphere is dying. Verb. Action statement. Ongoing.
If the human race fails to transform its relationship to nature, that verb will be replaced with an adjective: extinct.
Our biosphere is extinct.
Not yet. But it’s coming, absent a peaceful revolution of ideas and action from a core of highly committed people.
You have spent days wading through a harbour full of dying whales.
Never let a tragedy of nature go to waste.
You need to use this tragedy to light a fire in your belly.
Let this tragedy switch on the light inside you.
Let this tragedy be the jolt that wakes you up.
That helps you break through the barrier, to become a warrior for change.
The world needs an army of environmental warriors, driven by a spiritual connection to nature.
The events of Macquarie Harbour can be a spark to set off a new environmental revolution, this one driven by spirituality.
We stand against those who harm nature not for reason, but because it is right.
Now you have arisen, what to do?
By mid-century, we need to:
- euthanize the fossil fuel industry
- regrow nature
- drawdown three trillion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere
- restore the climate to 300 ppm by 2050
- develop the means to thrive in synergy with nature for the Long Future
This is what we must do if we are to stay on this planet, and help the pilot whales off the sand banks.
Maybe this is why Vitae-planeta birthed us.
I say Vitae-planeta because I am a Vitan. I could just as well say Gaia, Mother Nature, Pachamama, or the Living Planet.
They are all the same idea.
We humans are no different to the whales. We are as much a part of nature as they are.
Sure, humans have free-will, but the pilot whales have echo-location. We all have different talents.
To help the pilot whales off the sand bank; maybe this is why we are here.
Think about this. We all came from the ocean. The amniotic fluid – the liquid in which the human foetus gestates – the liquid in which you spent your days before your birth – has nearly identical chemical composition as the ocean.
The same for your blood; human blood and seawater are nearly identical.
When you rescued the whales, you weren’t rescuing an abstract part of the environment. You were rescuing blood-brothers and blood-sisters. Blood-relatives. You were rescuing family. You were rescuing yourself.
How about this for an idea?
Instead of a world where we are forced to euthanize stranded whales, how about we euthanize the fossil fuel industry.
It probably needs to be nationalised so that it can be wound up in an orderly fashion without massive job losses and political interference.
We need to drawdown three trillion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere so that we don’t keep cooking the planet.
We need climate restoration: returning the atmospheric CO2 to 300 parts per million by 2050 by regrowing nature, and using nature as a guide for draw-down technology.
Nature is, after-all, made-up of carbon-based life forms. When we grow nature, we move carbon from the atmosphere and into the global ecosystem.
Finally, we need to develop the systems, practices and technology that will allow us to live in balance with nature, deep into the Long Future.
It’s that simple. We need to nurture the fire inside, the rage, the compassion, and the love and be the agent that drives change.
The transformation of human civilization to Advance the Verdant Age.
The time is now.
Pilot whales are odd and adorable. Not a creature that would make a good pet. We don’t really think about them much until they wash up on the sandbank, dying.
Beautiful, yes. Noble, yes. Perfect. Not so much. They have a flaw in their Kato Plan. They tend to strand a lot.
Why is this? I’m not the expert – the marine scientists are the experts – but what I understand is that pilot whales typically live in the open ocean, and they are very gregarious.
So, imagine a situation where for whatever reason, one of their members comes into a shallow bay, and their eco-location system is unsuitable to navigate, and it ploughs into a sandbank and gets stuck.
It calls out in distress to its pod, and the pod responds by swimming in, and similarly getting stuck.
Observing this behaviour, you might think that the pilot whales are bit dim, or maybe they just need to take ‘5’ and think about what they are doing before they swim in to a massive, shallow harbour with an barometric tide and only one tiny bolt-hole back to the ocean called – of all names - Hell’s Gate.
I mean, really! What were they thinking? Maybe the much-vaunted cetacean intelligence is somewhat overrated.
But don’t smirk at the pilot whales before you have taken a look at human behavior.
We nuke each other. We toxify our cities with the carcinogenic combustion products of fossil fuels.
We war against each other, inevitably killing many more innocents than combatants.
We allow the fossil fuel industry to corrupt our democratic systems of governance. We let them get away with it.
Sure, humans are a bit mixed up, but look at the noble efforts we deploy to help the shortcoming of the pilot whales.
And here’s an idea.
Maybe while we are helping the pilot whales, other species are taking pity on us, and doing what they can to help.
Maybe when the bug flies onto your car windscreen, it is sending a message, trying to warn us of what we have set in motion.
Maybe when the magpie swoops you, it is trying to say: “You are driving another mass extinction event, and it is completely unnecessary.”
Maybe when a mosquito or midge or sandfly bites you, that is Vitae-planeta’s way of saying: “Wake up, humans! The biosphere is dying. Transform your civilization and Advance the Verdant Age. We are all relying on you.”
I suspect that we humans are so swept-up in our species exceptionalism that we can’t see that nature is trying to help us survive. Nature is sending us messages all the time. Wake Up. Transform your civilization.
Because in the Anthropocene Epoch humans decide which species live or die. Indeed, we decide whether species continue to live on Earth.
But we are not all bad. Obviously. Look at what has taken place in Macquarie Harbour, recently.
Let us assume for a moment that humans weren’t put on Earth to destroy nature, but to occasionally step in when it lost its way. Maybe the Earth is better off with us.
Maybe this is why humans evolved, to help pilot whales when they got in trouble.
Maybe this is the answer to the age-old question: “Why are we here?” To help the pilot whales, when they lose their way.
These are existential questions. Questions of spirituality.
I don’t know about you, but if I had to toss up between a spirituality devoted to consumerism and pop culture – as is the norm - and a spirituality grounded in the commitment to protect nature – the machinery of our own life support system – I would take my Reeboks to the recycle bin today.
Not that I have Reeboks, nor that they are going to get recycled; but you see my point.
All humans need to have a nature-based spirituality, and act accordingly.
Our planet is dying, and you have just experienced that.
Our planet needn’t be dying.
We need to transform civilization immediately.
- Euthanize the fossil fuel industry.
- Regrow nature to drawdown 3 trillion tons of carbon and restore the climate to 300 ppm by 2050.
- We need to develop the tools to thrive in synergy with nature deep into the Long Future.
Oh, and keep a wary eye for pilot whales who lose their way.