OPINION

Nature And Humans: We're Not That Important

June 28, 2006
Richard Marcus

It strikes me as odd to hear people talk about how the increase of hurricanes or other natural disasters are Mother Nature's means of getting back at us for our evil ways. Sure we have screwed around with the natural order of things and turned swampland into deserts, deserts into swamp lands by not thinking of the long-term consequences of our actions.

Certainly this is representative of our careless attitude towards the natural world and reflects badly on how we view our relationship with the planet on which we live, but the sentimentalizing of nature into an entity that cares one whit about us either way is just as wrongheaded. It's not the facts that I have a problem with, I have no trouble believing that climate change caused by pollution increases the number and the potency of hurricanes in a season.

But the concept of nature making a conscious decision to create more natural disasters as a result is as equally inane an argument as those who said the devastation of New Orleans was God's punishment for their wicked ways. Both ways of thinking reflect a hubris that is the root of our misguided relationship with the natural world; that we are more important than anything else on the planet.

The Catholic Church used to burn people at the stake as heretics if they claimed that the earth was not the centre of the universe with the other planets and the Sun revolving around us. How could it be otherwise since we were the ultimate creation and everything was built for us? It was only when scientific proof grew too irrefutable did it become accepted wisdom that we, like all the other planets revolved around the Sun.

But even though we reluctantly gave up on the idea that we were the centre of the Universe, we were going to be the raison d'etre for the existence of this planet no matter what anybody else believed or said. What's funny is how many "primitive" and "uncivilized" people in the world at that time believed differently. They had the crazy idea that humans were not more important than anything else in the world.

Let us step even further back in time for a moment to when the majority of human life was taken up with survival. Whether in the agrarian societies of Europe and elsewhere or the hunter-gatherer societies of the woods of North and South America and the deserts of Africa and beyond everything from what we did during the day, to what we worshiped, was wrapped up in insuring survival. More specifically the collection of food that would see a village through times when hunting or growing wasn't possible.

Living on such intimate terms with nature makes you aware of how insignificant you and your concerns are in the natural course of events. Why else would agrarian societies develop rituals that were designed to attract the attention of whoever to ensure rain and sunlight in equal measure and give thanks at the end of the harvest season. If your source of food is wild game it only makes sense that you develop rituals that will ensure plentiful supplies of game. You probably will be careful not to over hunt, or do anything that could screw up your food supply.

We don't have a natural place in the food chain save for the top. There're not many species that make us a regular part of their diet, so anything we do makes an imbalance in the natural order of things by adding in a link that doesn't reciprocate in some manner. Unlike other large predators, like the wolf and mountain lion in North America, or the jaguar in South America, and the lions and tigers of Africa and Asia, our numbers have always been such that we can have a nasty effect on prey if we're not careful.

As our species moved away from this pattern of sustainable living that direct relationship with nature was lost. As food became a commodity from which wealth could be accumulated and the trading of goods replaced hunting as a means of obtaining it, the former harmonious relationship fell by the wayside.

Instead of living according to patterns set forth by the natural world, we looked for ways to dominate nature and make it behave in the way we wanted. The damming of rivers to create lakes, the draining of marshes to build on, and the clearing of forests to make farmer's fields were the earliest and most obvious ways in which we began to tamper.

But it wasn't until the coming of the industrial revolution that not only craved natural resources but generated harmful wastes, did our caviller attitudes start causing real damage and sever any ties that might have been left between the majority of people and the natural world.

The belief that we humans exist in a vacuum separate from the natural world is just as persistent today as it was during the industrial revolution. Each year the amount of habitable land for wild life of all kinds is reduced by larger and larger increments as our insatiable greed for natural resources continues unabated.

Instead of expressing concern over the fact that it's taken us little less than a hundred years of the automobile's existence to deplete a large amount of the world's easily accessible oil supply, we continue to intrude further into what's left of the wilderness in order to buy another generation fuel.

But it's not our exploitation of the environment alone that shows our continued belief that we matter more than other life forms. There's the way in which environmentalists appeal to others with the "aren't those animals too cute to kill" approach. The animal in question usually ends up being relegated to the sidelines and it becomes an opportunity for people to show "how much they care" without actually doing anything constructive.

This almost condescending attitude towards the natural world doesn't do anything to dispel the illusion that we are more important then it is. Like sentimental movies that give animals human characteristics because that way they become "real" to us, hardly anything is done to show the natural world being important on its own without any human involvement.

Some organizations, like the Nature Conservancy of Canada stress purchasing land to buffer habitats. That means that land is being saved from development and biodiversity is encouraged to reform as our interference is removed from the food chain. Programs like that are real attempts to redress the imbalance of years of neglect and recognise we are only a small cog in a very large and diverse wheel.

To say that Mother Earth is fighting back by sending up hurricanes, tidal waves, and volcanic eruptions is to imply that we actually matter. In so many ways we still believe the Universe revolves around us, and that thinking something like that only proves it. All those things were happening on the planet long before we came along, and will continue to happen long after we've died out.

The only thing we are doing with our self-importance is making the earth less and less habitable for us and some other creatures that live here. The Earth is just doing what comes natural to her when she creates huge winds and big waves. Don't take it personally or anything, but we're just not important enough for her to be doing it as revenge for our actions.

As far as the planet can tell we are just another life form. Isn't it about time we remembered that?


Richard Marcus is a long - haired Canadian iconoclast who writes reviews and opines on the world as he sees it at Leap In The Dark and Blogcritics
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