Friday, August 17, 2012

To respect nature is to respect ourselves

Spider web at Torfolk Gård 2007

Nothing human beings do can compete with a piece of nature in complexity. A square metre of land contains so many organisms with so complicated and complex relationships that one can’t understand them. A gramme of forest soil may contain over a million bacteria colonies. It is estimated that several million individual animals and over a thousand different species may reside beneath a square metre of soil surface (Perry 1994); all of them are constituted by many, many cells and there is interaction between them, an exchange of energy and nutrients. Most likely, a square metre of nature is more complex and contains more information than the whole Internet.

Apart from the direct and indirect services obtained from nature, nature also has great aesthetical and cultural value. It gives another perspective, many reference points; it is an unprecedented piece of art. Natural environments have, for centuries, been known for their healing properties for people in spiritual need or mental stress. It is good to have respect for nature. The respect should be based on what it is; for its beauty and for its value, both apparent values and those not discovered. This respect should of course also include ourselves. A level of development has been reached where we are already managing most of the terrestrial ecosystems. This gives human beings unique powers among the creatures on the planet and unique responsibility too. We can’t pretend that we don’t have that power or that responsibility; both have to be exercised with due diligence, humbly realizing that there are so many things we don’t know.

Whose nature?
It should be kept in mind that exploitation of nature is also a question of whose nature. Different groups are affected by destruction of nature in different ways, and normally the nature of the weaker group is destroyed while the nature of the rich is preserved. This leads some to believe that the rich ‘care more’ for the environment or that only when there is a certain wealth that human beings ‘can afford’ to care about nature, but this mixes up cause and effect to a large extent. The rich can exploit the nature of the poor and even export their waste to the nature of the poor, whereas the poor has no other option than the exploitation of nature, be it in the form or natural resources or in the form of their own labour. To some extent, the whole trick of modern civilization is about exploitation of nature; exploitation of historical production, of which fossil fuel is the primary example; exploitation of the future nature, by dumping waste. But it is also the history of a few people exploiting many other people. At the centre, apart from nature and energy, are technology and society.

Society has four big challenges regarding the use of natural resources; well perhaps using the term ‘challenges’ is an understatement, ‘system errors’ is perhaps a more suitable term. First, humankind uses already too much of the planet’s resources; the capital is being consumed and it is not a question of whether society will go bankrupt[1] but when it will do so. Second, the distribution of these resources is extremely inequitable, between countries and within countries; rich countries and rich people use a totally disproportionate share of the resources (and rich people in rich countries are apparently the worst). Third, economic growth is continuing and seems to be hard-wired into society, which means that resource use will also continue to grow. Fourth, the world’s population is primed to grow for at least 40 more years, perhaps longer. We can’t negotiate with nature and no less can we expect that the poor will, or should, accept that common assets are wasted.

[1] The term is a bit unfortunate, the repercussions of an exhaustion of the natural capital is a lot more dramatic than a financial bankruptcy, which in essence only means a redistribution of money. The terms for bankruptcy with nature can’t be negotiated. There is no bailout.

The text is an extract from Garden Earth

No comments:

Post a Comment