“Who wants to see the living world destroyed? Who wants an end to birdsong, bees and coral reefs, the falcon’s stoop, the salmon’s leap? Who wants to see the soil stripped from the land, the sea rimed with rubbish?
No one. And yet it happens. Seven billion of us allow fossil fuel companies to push shut the narrow atmospheric door through which humanity stepped. We permit industrial farming to tear away the soil, banish trees from the hills, engineer another silent spring… We watch mutely as a small fleet of monster fishing ships trashes the oceans.
Acknowledging our love for the living world does something that a library full of papers on sustainable development and ecosystem services cannot: it engages the imagination as well as the intellect.
Why are the defenders of the living world so ineffective? It is partly, of course, that everyone is complicit; we have all been swept off our feet by the tide of hyper-consumption, our natural greed excited, corporate propaganda chiming with a will to believe that there is no cost. But perhaps environmentalism is also afflicted by a deeper failure: arising possibly from embarrassment or fear, a failure of emotional honesty.
I have asked meetings of green-minded people to raise their hands if they became defenders of nature because they were worried about the state of their bank accounts. Never has one hand appeared. Yet I see the same people base their appeal to others on the argument that they will lose money if we don’t protect the natural world.
Such claims are factual, but they are also dishonest: we pretend that this is what animates us, when in most cases it does not. The reality is that we care because we love. Nature appealed to our hearts, when we were children, long before it appealed to our heads, let alone our pockets. Yet we seem to believe we can persuade people to change their lives through the cold, mechanical power of reason, supported by statistics.
…In his beautiful book The Moth Snowstorm, Michael McCarthy suggests that a capacity to love the natural world, rather than merely to exist within it, might be a uniquely human trait. When we are close to nature, we sometimes find ourselves… surprised by joy: “A happiness with an overtone of something more, which we might term an elevated or, indeed, a spiritual quality.”
He believes we are wired to develop a rich emotional relationship with nature. A large body of research suggests that contact with the living world is essential to our psychological and physiological well-being…
This does not mean that all people love nature; what it means, McCarthy proposes, is that there is a universal propensity to love it, which may be drowned out by the noise that assails our minds. As I’ve found while volunteering with the outdoor education charity Wide Horizons, this love can be provoked almost immediately, even among children who have never visited the countryside before. Nature, McCarthy argues, remains our home, “the true haven for our psyches”, and retains an astonishing capacity to bring peace to troubled minds.”
-- George Monbiot, “Why We Fight for the Living World: It's About Love, and It's Time We Said So,” the Guardian (UK), June 16, 2015
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For a long time we’ve been subjected to a seemingly endless succession of “bad news stories” about threats to the environment, to nature, to Mother Earth.
It’s always tempting to look away and avoid reading or hearing about the latest crisis that endangers living things or degrades the ecosystems that life depends on.
Thankfully there’s also significant good news in our world, although the media aren’t in the habit of reporting on it regularly (bad news is clearly more profitable).
Personally I find it especially encouraging that there are now reported to be record numbers of individuals and organizations in this country and worldwide who are dedicating their lives or large amounts of energy to “defending the natural world.”
Which doesn’t mean that we’re home free by a long shot. But it’s clear that in spite of the almost total absence of nature-aware political leadership in this country now, tens of millions of citizens do care greatly about the wellbeing of the natural world.
If large numbers of us can find ways to act more effectively to protect the earth’s life support systems -- and somehow inspire a new wave of responsible leadership in the US -- we might actually have grounds to be cautiously hopeful for the future.
-- Charlie Cook