Many people are rightfully disgusted with the way we treat our planet. Our carbon emissions are producing a warming of the Earth’s climate that will lead to catastrophic changes to the planet’s fauna and flora. Our trash is piling up in the oceans causing the slow and painful death of countless sea creatures. And urbanization, industrialization, and farming are polluting the air and the water affecting wildlife and causing dead zones in the seas. Some argue that human beings must return to a lifestyle in “harmony with nature”. But what exactly is meant by “being in harmony with nature” is not clear. Does it mean engaging in outdoor lifestyles, meditating in the woods, or adopting one of those Mother Earth philosophies? Does it mean recycling, driving electric cars, and going vegan? Or does it mean giving up electricity, computers, cars, and airplanes, and living in log cabins?
Even though I don’t know what “living in harmony with nature” means for human beings, I know what it means for other living things. If you want to know too, I encourage you to watch not the cute lovey-dovey videos of animals who are otherwise mortal enemies in nature frolicking with each other as a result of human intervention, but any of a number of grisly predator-prey videos in the internet where living things are dismembered, disemboweled, or eaten (many while still alive). This is what nature is: no rights, no morals, no ethics, no laws, no religion, and no values. It’s dominate or be dominated, kill or be killed, eat or be eaten, and fight or flee to survive just to die another day. Nature is predators, fear, pain, and suffering. Nature is wounds, infections, parasites, and parasites of parasites. Nature is the purest form of “life’s a bitch and then you die”.
Do you want to be in “harmony” with that?
For all living things except human beings, “living in harmony with nature” is being part of this system. Nature is not antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, vaccines, drugs, medical checkups, or surgery. Nature is no artificially extended lifespans and access to technology that allows us to overcome the limitations of our biology. There are hundreds of millions of people (including yours truly) who are alive today and free of suffering because we are not in harmony with nature.
Some people would argue that I am being ridiculous, that “being in harmony with nature” does not mean abandoning our modern civilization, going back to the forest, and trying to outrun the wolf pack. These people would argue that instead “being in harmony with nature” means something like using green energy, reducing the use of plastics, the consumption of livestock, and other such strategies. Well, if you have read my blog, I am all for that, but in my opinion this is not “being in harmony with nature”. Here we may be arguing about semantics, but I think that we cannot be in “harmony with nature” in the most obvious meaning of this phrase because the very premises on which we base and define our existence (think for example “rights”) are at odds with the natural order according to which all living things but we live.
There are also practical considerations. For example, the total amount of energy that a single human being in the United Estates consumes in one year is 303 million BTU per year. BTU means “British Thermal Unit”, and is roughly equivalent to the amount of energy released when you light a match. By comparison a male elephant weighing 5 tons consumes 82 million BTU per year. There are now 7.3 billion people on Earth. Our worldwide consumption of energy is 575 quadrillion (that is 15 zeroes) BTU, and the processes by which we generate this energy, such as burning fossil fuels, are damaging our planet. Can we replace these energy-generating processes with green alternatives? Maybe, but it will be a challenge.
At this point, some people would agree with me that indeed we human beings have placed ourselves outside the checks and balances of nature, and because of this we are harming our planet. They argue that, unlike natural populations of living things, humanity is growing unchecked like a cancer overrunning the Earth. They feel human population growth and activities must be restrained. Some even suggest in ominous whispers that “the herd must be thinned”.
Not so fast.
Human beings have a brain that is a product of a natural evolutionary process, and this brain has allowed our species to gain an understanding of the universe that no other living thing has ever achieved. Because of this we can recognize that our way of life is harming the planet. A cancer is not capable of understanding that it is killing the body that sustains it, but we are, and we can do something about it. For example, when it was recognized that the use of certain chemicals was depleting the ozone levels in the atmosphere, the nations of the world agreed to ban ozone-depleting chemicals in 1987 in the treaty known as the Montreal Protocol. Another example is when it was recognized that the testing of nuclear weapons represented a danger to human beings and the environment. As a result of this, the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, under water, and in space was banned in several treaties signed and ratified over the years.
So to recap, I don’t believe that humanity can be (or will want to be) in “harmony with nature”. However, I do believe that humanity as a whole is not a destructive entity with a one-way ticket to oblivion. We will be able to change our ways, minimize our environmental impact, and persevere. We have adapted in the past, and we will do it again in the future.
The image from Pixabayis is free for commercial and noncommercial use.