We are stealing nature from our children. Now, when I say this, I don’t mean that we are destroying nature that they will have wanted us to preserve, although that is unfortunately also the case. What I mean here is that we’ve started to define nature in a way that’s so purist and so strict that under the definition we’re creating for ourselves, there won’t be any nature left for our children when they’re adults. But there’s a fix for this. So let me explain.
Right now, humans use half of the world to live, to grow their crops and their timber, to pasture their animals. If you added up all the human beings, we would weigh way much as all the wild mammals put together. We cut roads through the forest. We have added little plastic particles to the sand on ocean beaches. We’ve changed the chemistry of the soil with our artificial fertilizers. And of course, we’ve changed the chemistry of the air. So when you take your next breath, you’ll be breathing in 42% more carbon dioxide than if you were breathing in the 1816. So all of these changes, and many others, clearly show the magnitude of human influence on our planet.
So where does this put nature? What counts as nature in a world where everything is influenced by humans?
To my opinion, nature is not that which is untouched by humanity, man or woman. I think that nature is anywhere where life thrives, anywhere where there are multiple species together, anywhere that’s green and blue and thriving and filled with life and growing. And under that definition, things look a little bit different.
Let me walk you through it. There are certain parts of this nature that speak to us in a special way. Places like Yellowstone, or the Mongolian steppe, or the Great Barrier Reef or the Serengeti. Places that we think of as kind of Edenic representations of a nature before we screwed everything up. And in a way, they are less impacted by our day to day activities. Many of these places have no roads or few roads, so on, like such. But ultimately, even these Edens are deeply influenced by humans. Humans have just been involved in nature in a very influential way for a very long time. Since the creation of the world through all the changes that took place with this planet. National Geographic, Discovery Channel and other like TV shows reveal to us that even the remotest places we could ever think of – the Amazon, for one, is vastly inhabited by humans. Same is true with the other tropical rainforests. Humans have influenced ecosystems in the past, and they continue to influence them in the present, even in places where they’re harder to notice.
So, if all of the definitions of nature that we might want to use that involve it being untouched by humanity or not having people in it, if all of those actually give us a result where we don’t have any nature, then maybe they’re the wrong definitions. Maybe we should define it by the presence of multiple species, by the presence of a thriving life.
Now, if we do it that way, what do we get? Well, it’s this kind of amazing, in a way. All of a sudden, there’s nature all around us. All of a sudden, we begin to notice the tiny caterpillar munching on a leaf of a plant right under our porch.
Or we begin to notice and see an empty lot with, probably, a dozen, minimum, plant species growing there, supporting all kinds of insect life, and it is a completely unmanaged space, a completely wild space.
This is a kind of wild nature right under our nose, that we don’t give much care and attention, less even notice.
And there’s an interesting little paradox, too. So this nature, this kind of wild, untended part of our urban, peri-urban, suburban agricultural existence that flies under the radar, it’s arguably more wild than a national park, because national parks are very carefully managed in the 21st century. National parks are heavily managed. The wildlife is kept to a certain population size and structure. Fires are suppressed. Fires are started. Non-native species are removed. Native species are reintroduced so on and so forth. It takes a lot of work to make these places look untouched.
And in a further irony, these places that we love the most are the places that we love a little too hard, sometimes. A lot of us like to go there, and because we’re managing them to be stable in the face of a changing planet, they often are becoming more fragile over time.
Which means that they’re the absolute worst places to take your children on vacation, because you can’t do anything there. You can’t climb the trees. You can’t fish the fish. You can’t make a campfire out in the middle of nowhere. You can’t take home the pinecones. There are so many rules and restrictions that from a child’s point of view, this is, like, the worst nature ever. Because children don’t want to hike through a beautiful landscape for five hours and then look at a beautiful view. That’s maybe what we want to do as adults, but what kids want to do is hunker down in one spot and just tinker with it, just work with it, just pick it up, build a house, build a fort, do something like that.
In a world where everything is changing, we need to be very careful about how we define nature.
In order not to steal it from our children, we have to do two things. First, we cannot define nature as that which is untouched. This never made any sense anyway. Nature has not been untouched for thousands of years. And the second thing is that we have to let children touch nature, because that which is untouched is unloved.
We face some pretty grim environmental challenges on this planet. Climate change is among them. There’s others too. But in order to solve them, we need people — smart, dedicated people — who care about nature. And the only way we’re going to raise up a generation of people who care about nature is by letting them touch nature.
(c) 2016 viewpointsofandrei.com