Us vs. Nature: The Need for Understanding
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We would fight back, of course. Even if our lives were not directly threatened, we would feel like we were under personal attack, so much do we identify with our stuff. Besides, in many cases, our lives do depend on our property. So we would go to war with nature.
A No-Win Situation
Our choice would be thus: give up an unsustainable way of life, or destroy the natural world in all-out warfare. Mother Nature has made an ultimatum and is giving us no other choice. It’s her, or us. If we agree to live by her rules, we can stick around. If not, one of us will be leaving this planet forever.
Of course, if we won, it wouldn’t really be a victory. A planet with no natural world could not sustain us for long. We’d lose everything we hold as beautiful and rejuvenating. And there is the question of whether we even have the right to dictate how this planet should function. Is it our right to survive at the expense of everyone and everything else? We certainly act that way now, but I wonder if we would see the truth of things if the choice was made more concrete.
Which do you think we would choose?
Our Lost Connection to the World
I want to see the natural wonders of this world. I want to stand in awe of an elephant, to feel unimportant next to a blue whale, to look into the eyes of a wolf and feel that sense of long distant friendship and fear. I want to get lost in forests that are older than my entire genetic line, to sleep beneath trees that themselves contain entire worlds. I want to feel dirt under my feet, and to drink cold, fresh water right out of a stream without worrying that it is contaminated.
I want my children to see these things and feel these things too. Our society has already segregated us from nature - the wilderness - and it is working very hard to teach us that there is nothing interesting or valuable in nature. When our kids spend their childhood in front of computer screens instead of playing outdoors, the concept of conservation is merely a good idea to them. It holds no real urgency.
I meet so many people who buy organic, drive hybrids, recycle, and go out of their way to buy 'green' products, but who wouldn't dare set foot outside a manicured lawn into a forest. Obviously, these things are all great, but it is so easy for companies to greenwash their products, making them sound eco-friendly, without actually passing on any real benefit to the world. People who are afraid of natural settings don't really understand what exactly they are ostensibly supporting, nor do they realize that a more useful approach might be a reduction in consumption generally, rather than a preference for eco-friendly shopping bags.
Kids are the place to start. My parents went out of their way to ensure that I spent a great deal of time outdoors in the natural world as a child. The result was that I learned to appreciate it and to understand that the natural way is very different from our normal lives. It isn't about buying greener products. It is about living with fewer things and less stuff. It isn't about extreme adventure sports all the time either, or completely sectioning off the woods to protect them. It is about living in tune with nature, getting your hands dirty, and understanding that your requirements can be met, but that you have to follow the natural laws that have always governed us and the planet. Kids nowadays can get whatever they want, whenever they want it, just sitting at a computer or television screen. And so the apparent inconveniences of nature seem annoying and pointless.
If however, they grow up in nature, play in the sun and the woods and the beaches, they come to feel a real connection to our world. So when it comes time for them to stand up to protect the natural world, they actually care. Conservation isn’t just a word that gives them a warm fuzzy feeling, like buying an organic fair trade latte instead of a regular one. It becomes something necessary and true. Now they become nature’s warriors because they have felt at home under the trees.
Get Out in the Sun and the Wind and the Trees
If you wonder what is so great about the natural world, and ask why we whine so much about protecting it, get to know nature for a little bit. Like all things new, it will be severely uncomfortable at first (kind of like drinking alcohol, exercising, or learning how to walk or read). Start small and slow, maybe with just a walk at your park, and see if it doesn’t grow on you. Let yourself really get to know our world outside of your protected bubble of civilization.
Try camping, maybe with a guide or group. Keep in mind that many people in much worse life circumstances than you go camping and survive the ordeals of sleeping on the ground and only one set of clothing. See if you don’t find beauty out there in isolated nature.
There is much, much more to a forest than we ever experience hiking along on that narrow trail. But maybe by walking the trail enough, we can come to understand the vast lives and dreams that take place beyond the trees at the edge of our vision. And maybe we can come to respect those lives’ right to exist, and also how our lives affect those small lives in the forest. Because standing quietly in a forest, surrounded by trees and mountains and streams, with only other animals for company, with nowhere to be but right where you are standing, is a more normal way of being than most of us every experience.
For our sake, we need to realize that. We need to see how much we need the rest of this world.
- Choosing between ‘nature’ and our current way of life is a no-win situation: If we continue to think of the world as divided between humankind and the rest of the natural world, we will either destroy ourselves or everything else, which will lead to our downfall or a totally colorless world not worth inhabiting.
- It’s not really hypothetical: I present the choice here as hypothetical and paint an urgent, extreme case, but we are currently living in this situation. The consequences are more drawn out, the extermination efforts not so directed, but the end result is the same.
- In order to really care, we need to feel the benefits of nature: If we want to really understand what we will be losing, we need to spend some time outdoors, in the natural world. Without this real appreciation, our concern for the natural world remains simply a fashionable trend, not a real effort, and our understanding of what is at stake is hazy at best, and downright ignorant at worst.
- We need to understand the value of a world different from our own: For most of us, the natural world plays a very minor role, so it is difficult for us to appreciate the different rhythms and perspectives it offers. It is important to keep in mind that just because we don’t understand or like the things needed for a balanced ecosystem, they are still vital to the well-being of ourselves and the rest of the world.