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A Dedication to the Elements

By: Stephan Harding
Senior Lecturer, Holistic Science Postgraduate Programme/Resident Ecologist
Schumacher College

For us modern people, you are merely the ‘chemical elements’. We consider you inanimate, dead, not worthy of a point of view.  We’ve never given you thanks. Who cares about lifeless rock and air?   But an ancient awareness stirs and grows in the face of the global crisis – that you are people ; animate proto-beings, tiny atomic persons - the stuff of life. And so we do, after all, owe you thanks.  Your quantum entanglements, your ultra sub-microscopic machinations your repulsions, and your love affairs, the sum of all your doings, create the vastness of the universe and the shining, turning, deep blue-marble Earth in which we live, breathe and have our being.  

Praise, then, be to carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sulphur - the very elements of our physical bodies.  We are made of you.  Our every mood, our every conversation, our thoughts, our longings prefigure in your yearning for completion as you swap and share tingling electrons - those even tinier sub-atomic persons.  Our consciousness and yours are consanguineous – we share the same cosmic quantum blood. You are our ancestors, our foundation.  And so too of the air, the oceans, the bacteria, algae, plants, fungi and animals.  

You flare forth in the consciousness of singing whales, the eerie intelligence of octopus, in elephant dreams, in our dreams.  Praise be to those amongst you whom we mine with such abandon and with such destruction: you are the stuff of mountains, of deserts, of planets.  You: tantulum, chromium, arsenic, aluminium, antimony, gallium, manganese, molybdenum, magnesium, tin and iron.  You and your brothers and sisters, we praise you all.

And yet we denigrate you, we rip you out of your earthly homes in mineral veins. We crush you out of rock with scathing acids and searing heat.  Do you rage, nitrogen, when we suck you from the swirling air into our fertilizers to be dumped on our fields, causing mayhem in the rivers and oceans?  Elements, do you rage when we enslave you, when we disrespect your elemental rights, your needs?  When we process you like so dead stuff, when we mould and squeeze you into unnatural circuit board associations, like distant tribes forced to live together far from their natural homelands?  Press-ganged into our service in shiny electronic devices, do you suffer the greed and madness of our culture?  Are you the final recipients of our darkest shadow selves?

So how shall we treat you, oh elements?   A melding of science and indigenous wisdom urges us thus: to implore the sacred Earth with ritual and ceremony for permission to extract you from her living flesh, as we must do to survive.  To deploy our best science to calculate how many of your atoms and molecules we can safely take without upsetting the self-regulating dance of our living planet.  To design recycling processes that keep you safely out of the biosphere in perfect closed loop cycles.  But above all, oh flesh of our flesh, let us revere you truly as persons and beings of Earth. Let us recognise the fundamental, elemental right for as many of you as possible to stay in the ground and out of our clutches, the subterranean guardians of our world.

In:  Sibaud 2013.  Short Circuit: The Lifecycle of Electronic Gadgets and the True Cost to Earth.  Gaia Foundation, London.

Stephan oversees the MSc in Holistic Science, teaching on the core models and as part of several of the short courses at the College. Stephan was born in Venezuela in 1953. He came to England at the age of six with his father and housekeeper, with whom he spoke Spanish (his mother tongue) at home. Since childhood Stephan has had a deep fascination with the natural world, and his scientific cast of mind lead him to do a degree in Zoology at the University of Durham and then a doctorate on the behavioural ecology of the muntjac deer at Oxford University.

To learn more about the MSc Holistic Science Programme: Click Here