When I was 9 or 10, my dad and I often played spirited games of poker in the evening. We enlivened most games by letting the dealer declare certain cards to be “wild cards.” If you got a wild card, you could assign it to be any card that would improve your hand. My dad’s favorite wild cards were “deuces, one-eyed jacks and one-eyed kings.” I still remember the thrill of drawing one or more of those magically-endowed cards.
The term “wild card” typically implies something unanticipated and unpredictable, with the potential for surprising results, either positive or negative. Since the onset of agriculture 10,000 years ago, humanity has increasingly become the wild card of our planet’s living systems, in the most negative ways possible.
Beginning billions of years ago, the Earth’s innumerable expressions of life have been rising and falling away, then recombining and rising again, over and over, according to Gaia’s unfolding rhythms and cycles. Several major extinction events have already occurred in the Earth’s history, powered by inexorable, yet ultimately life-affirming tides of destruction and creation.
But now, the biologists tell us, we are in the first phases of a “sixth extinction,” one that is driven solely by the devastating, heedless actions of humanity. Apart from the ongoing depredations by human beings, the Earth’s natural systems have been robust, enduring and sustainable for many millions of years, even while lands and oceans shifted and new species arose. The wild card here is humanity’s enormous ability and astonishing willingness to exploit and ruin the more-than-human world. This is the force that’s powering the destruction of the planet’s lifeweb.
As always, my own conviction, in the face of the ongoing collapse of Earth’s living systems, is that the first thing we need to do is give up our human-centered self-importance and come to know ourselves as members of Gaia’s web. If we don’t do this, nothing else we do to help the planet can succeed. But even here, I’m realizing, there is a deeper reality that we need to let in.
In saying that we are part of Gaia, we’re saying that we are part of a vast, powerful, living, responsive intelligence. When we affirm this, we can move from seeing the planet as only the tragic victim of thousands of years of human aggression. The aggression, and the tragedy of it, are real. But Gaia Herself is and has always been a participant—a player, we might say—in what is happening on Planet Earth. And She brings to the table her own very powerful wild card.
The entire sweep of life on Earth has arisen from Gaia’s insatiable appetite for regeneration. Gaia embodies the power to ceaselessly evolve and generate new life in the face of any and all resistance. Beginning with the microbes that colonized the cold primordial oceans, Her impulse to engender life has been unstoppable. In other posts I have referred to this impulse as the Green Force. Any force that can raise up a flower out of asphalt in a summer, or transform a former landfill into a diverse ecosystem in 20 years, is certainly committed to regeneration no matter what.
As allies to the more-than-human world, we need to outgrow the idea that we’re nobly working to give Gaia something She lacks. Instead, our task is to align ourselves with the green, regenerative force that She already has. When we play on Gaia’s side of the table, we get to use Her wild card to improve Her hand. And it’s a pretty good bet that, ultimately, regeneration will win.
Looking at our heartbreaking situation here on Earth this way is both empowering and hopeful, even while our inevitable losses must still be mourned. The force of regeneration doesn’t guarantee that the condors or rhinos won’t vanish, or that our forests won’t be permanently diminished, or even that humanity will remain here in significant numbers. But regeneration will prevail, because Gaia Herself is wielding it.
Let’s welcome this regenerative Green Force and allow it to enliven and guide our minds, hearts and souls. Then we ourselves can become wild cards on behalf of Gaia and the more-than-human world we love.