Artwork By Mariam Mabrouk
The greatest misconception of our time is that nature has been conquered by human nature.
“Natura or physis is the source from which all springs forth… nature is all that there is.” – Holmes Ralston III
We believe that our factories, cars, and skyscrapers have destroyed nature. We believe that our modern religion of science sacrifices life on the altar of innovation. We believe that our consumerism consumes the planet. We believe that our parks – big and small – are the last bastions of the wild; like The Collector from the Marvel Universe, we must build gilded cages lest these remaining paradises of nature vanish.
But that is only half true. Please, sit down and find some nature – in your mind or with your eyes – to experience, as we journey into this question of nature, humans, and life…
First off, our current ecosystem is failing us almost as much as we fail it: our global temperatures are increasing, rising ocean levels are threatening cities, island nations, water supplies, etc… Our forests are shrinking; drastic shifts in weather patterns are occurring which threaten life a million ways; there is increasing desertification from poor soil practices. And that’s only nature (or humans indirectly). Directly, we are overfishing/hunting which threatens local and global ecosystems, building cities that reflect and increase heat without allowing proper cycles of rainfall, burning fossil fuels with no end in sight (even if we magically stopped all countries from using fossil fuels as energy we would also need to replace all plastic, from the silicon in our cars and phones to, well, everything), destroying forests at a frightening rate (with some estimating that the Amazon rainforest could disappear in 50 years at the current rate of deforestation), and too much more.
But, we can never destroy or diminish nature.
In the words of Baird Callicott, “We are a part of nature, not set apart from it. Chicago is no less a phenomenon of nature than is the Great Barrier Reef.”
No matter how concrete, or metal, or remote from nature our cities, houses, and lives may appear, it is only through humanity’s hubris that we believe them to not be nature. We cannot create outside of nature, for we are nature. All that we create is within the bounds of nature. The separateness of wild and non-wild nature is a delusion: A delusion built on our hubris. Our skyscrapers, factories, walls, and malls are no more outside the control of nature than the city of a termite or the factory of a bee. The difference is that our cities and factories are hurting us: we poison the air, we rape the soil, burn the trees, and ignite the crude. But, the planet is not dying, we are. The smoke (metaphorically and literally) of our conflagratory existence is a part of nature even as it chokes us.
You may be thinking “what about nuclear war? What if we nuked the planet and killed all life?” To which I reply, would the Earth stop moving? Would the sun stop shining? With a sneeze of volcanic explosions, our planet could wipe itself clean as that great asteroid did 65 million years ago, and nature would still survive.
Forget your ego and remember: Our Earth was born out of a flying ball of volcanoes, and molten lava, and lightning storms, and asteroid bombardments in the emptiness of space, flying around a larger sphere of atomic explosions; yet, Earth is not the totality of nature. No animal, no plant, no forest, no desert, is nature; nature is the whole. That is wild. That is the wild: the system beyond the system. The unfathomable springs and levers our universe turns on. Springs and levers we cannot begin to control – or even imagine – any more than an ant. We are even less than that. To the universe, we are bacteria of bacteria. An extinction-sized asteroid? A black hole? An imploding star? All wild. All life. All nature.
We are nothing compared to the vast and imperturbable force that is nature. We fear death because it is the absence of ourselves. But, nature will always survive.
So look at that plant inside your house, or the park outside your window, or imagine the forests and mountains in your mind to remind yourself we are nothing to nature.
This sounds depressing and nihilistic, but it’s actually inspiring. We should be galvanized by the fact that we are nothing in nature’s vastness because that means we have nothing to lose except ourselves. And have you ever heard of an animal more self-obsessed or self-actualizing than humans? We have to get off our asses and start making some changes to our termite cities and our bee factories; not for the planet or nature, but for us.
NASA. (n.d.). Climate change: Vital signs of the planet. NASA. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://climate.nasa.gov/.
Rolston, H. (2001). NATURAL AND UNNATURAL; WILD AND CULTURAL. Western North American Naturalist, 61(3), 267–276. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41717173
Silva Junior, C. H. L., Pessôa, A. C. M., Carvalho, N. S., Reis, J. B. C., Anderson, L. O., & Aragão, L. E. O. C. (2020, December 21). The Brazilian amazon deforestation rate in 2020 is the greatest of the decade. Nature News. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-020-01368-x.
Soil, land and climate change. European Environment Agency. (2021, May 11). Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://www.eea.europa.eu/signals/signals-2019-content-list/articles/soil-land-and-climate-change#:~:text=Climate%20change%20affects%20soil&text=Continuing%20declines%20in%20soil%20moisture,they%20are%20affected%20by%20desertification.