An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.
The environmental movement has advocated for conservation and preservation of our habitat to ensure that both humanity and the planet will be sustainable. As much as this philosophy makes sense and has ethical implications as well, we must also look at some misconceptions that have been perpetuated by the development community and the preservation movement that threaten to undermine their own ideologies and purpose.
Both entities just mentioned tend to think that human intervention in nature somehow suspends the laws of nature whereas preservation efforts allow nature full reign to evolve naturally. We cannot alter the way nature operates although we seem to act as if we can. We can manipulate nature’s results to some degree and maybe even delay disastrous outcomes but we cannot ultimately eliminate them from occurring.
Society and our policies of preservation and conservation are human inventions. The borders we have placed between them are of human origin and are not acknowledged by nature. Consequently, neither society nor environmentalism operates in the way we perceive they should. The biosphere operates in its own evolutionary manner, and as such, will always triumph when conflicted with human interventions. Thus, if humanity did manage to cause what we refer to as a total ecosystem collapse, much of the planet’s life forms might ultimately die-off but evolution would resume its usual course, even if all that was left were primitive organisms or elements.
In light of our attitudes about nature, we also seem to be obsessed with our own mortality. We have not accepted the fact that life and death are the natural processes of evolution. Much of what we do in the name of sustainability is really directed at our own continuance, despite recognizing that if we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves as well. Certainly, self-interest, as well as enlightened self-interest or symbiosis, is a fundamental and logical aspect of evolutionary development of all species but the human ego seems to have directed its focus mainly towards its own survival and prosperity.
What is needed is a change in consciousness that recognizes our participation in the evolution of the cosmos as opposed to our psychology of superiority, uniqueness and privilege. We need to stop thinking of the universe as something outside ourselves that is separate and alien. This disposition of disconnection is at the heart of our imbalanced relationship with nature and our resultant human-ecological crisis. According to William Ashworth, the author of The Left Hand of Eden, the careful use of natural resources within a context of “use with reverence”, is the only viable way of ensuring the ethic of true preservation.
The Left Hand of Eden, William Ashworth, Oregon State University Press, 1999, Prologue, pp. x-xl and A Death at Sunset, pp. 3-8.