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Planet Earth as a Living Organism



Is it possible for a human awakening to travel the Earth with the same speed as a pandemic?

Alexander von Humboldt

This question arose from my ability to see the world in a new way–as a living organism. This was the vision of Alexander von Humboldt, Prussian explorer, geographer, and naturalist. In this living organism, everything is connected, the “great web of life,” in other words.

I wrote about Humboldt, who died in 1859, in an earlier post. I have often since wondered how different things would be if he hadn’t, for no clear reason, sunk into obscurity in America after his death. Charles Darwin called him the “greatest scientific traveler who ever lived,” and he was spiritually attuned to the natural world in an unusual way for a scientist.

In my imagination, the idea of Earth as a living organism also suggested a mind, a consciousness, and a face, a troubled face. Its visage seems marred not only by concern but also by something changing visibly, something damaging its surface, something like an infection. It isn’t a pandemic, though. It is us. Humans on the move.


This may be a very unsettling image, but it looks like the time may finally have come to take a realistic look at our imprint on Planet Earth, and it’s not pretty. That realization is particularly poignant in America. After all, as our ancestors began to arrive on this continent from Europe, it was spectacularly beautiful, hospitable, and very sparsely populated. One estimate by the U.S. Embassy is that there were only about 1.5 million Native Americans here before us.

The European immigrants had essentially landed on a blank slate where a brilliant new history could be written. Unfortunately, however, amid the inspiring chapters of progress and the rising stature of the United States, dark paragraphs began almost immediately to emerge.

When COVID-19 immigrated to renew our reputation as a world leader in a new way, the streets, as many times before, were roiling with backlash over painful aspects of our history. And this time, we may have to lead in finding a way to prevent the extinction of our species.

Overly dramatic? Not really, according to scientists who have been tapping on our shoulders for years.


In  my previous post, I wrote about the shamanic perspective that this new coronavirus may have manifested as an ally. We have all encountered the like among human teachers and healers who represent gentle sources of guidance. Our new ally is extremely dangerous, perhaps because this is necessary to wake us up. To what? To the way that life on Earth is rapidly disappearing by our hand.

There are many sources for this perspective, and one is the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform. Last year, it reported that nature was declining globally at an unprecedented rate in human history, with more than one million plant and animal species threatened with extinction. The causes are climate change, of course, but also the pillaging and polluting of habitat by humans.


This is not news, but we’ve been distracted. After all, it’s hard to focus on menial problems when we know ourselves to be more powerful than any other species on earth. After all, we were given dominion over it, right? Well, maybe we were different back then. Scientists are beginning to share evidence that we may be going into decline. What?

They warn that Earth can’t long support the current rate of population growth. They also discreetly refer to the way technology and medicine have thwarted natural selection, by which means the genetically superior and the healthiest members of our species were once most likely to endure and procreate. Now, due to astounding medical advances, we may survive critical issues indefinitely, and life spans in general are steadily extending.


An uncomfortable point, I agree. But the truth often is uncomfortable. And one truth is how infinitely more powerful a little microbe can be than humans. Let’s imagine for a moment that there is a consciousness in the globe that is our home, and it has registered how dangerous humans have become to all other species on this planet, how destructive to its beauty and order and the grounds of its creativity. And let’s imagine that COVID-19 is here on the mission to restore a degree of balance.

So far, however, its impact in terms of fatalities is greatly diminished by comparison with earlier pandemics. After all, between 1346 and 1353, the Black Death killed as many as 200 million people in Europe, Africa, and Asia. However, COVID-19 has been infinitely more powerful in the way that it threatens the world economy, since we are all so interrelated now. In the US, we are just now getting a little in touch with how devastating the economic domino effect could be if we continue to have to quarantine here.

Money, money, money is uppermost in our minds here in the US because a robust economy is what we value above all–in the moment, that is. And if that endures, COVID-19 may as well. If it’s here on a mission, it may mutate more often and more creatively than our medical scientists can keep up with. And if the principle of natural selection applies, it will be interesting ultimately to see who survives and what  characteristics subsequent pandemics winnow from the gene pool.


What if there is a distinct pattern, among survivors, of people whose attention is innately attuned to “home.” This could be through their work as scientists, historians, farmers, archaeologists, artists, birders, adventure athletes, etc. What other kind of people can you think of who are very aware, very conscious of and concerned about the natural world we’ve unconsciously been on the path of destroying?

Reverence for the Natural World

Perhaps there is a critical mass of the like. And as the days go forward and more and more problems manifest that are caused by climate change, pollution, mining, development, conflict, and overpopulation, perhaps the focus of those individuals will begin to mobilize action.

What if attention stimulates an awakening that begins to spread like a pandemic? And what if it begins to transform the dominating values of civilization? A fantasy, of course, but what if it caused humanity to evolve–upward, I mean? Wouldn’t that be good?




3 Responses to “Planet Earth as a Living Organism”

  1. Liz

    Finally got to read your insightful piece, Ellen, and once again I thank you for sharing your thoughts and knowledge with others. I particularly like the notion of seeing the Earth with a troubled face that is looking back at us. A word that keeps coming to mind these days is MINDFULNESS. That troubled face is asking us all to be more mindful in how we treat Earth, not to mention each other. I hope we can move in that direction…

  2. Les

    Interesting, Ellen. I have been contemplating this issue with the same concept as you describe. However, I’ve been coming at it from a different viewpoint – like how many religions perceive God differently. In your treatise, one can substitute the concept of earth with the concept of God. Need I say more? Consider re-reading what you wrote with that concept. What do you think?

  3. Judyth Scott

    Ellen, this is a fascinating post. You have brought to our attention situations, facts, problems, and ideas that were already known and have spun these threads into a fabric for thought that could conceivably evolve into awakenings and actions to save our Earth. If only.