I like to hike in the forest as much as anyone. I’ve been known to backpack, pick flowers, even eat granola on occasion. But make no mistake, I am not a nature lover. Sometimes I even hate nature because nature is out to kill me.
Nature is not all fuzzy kittens and rainbows (though it is those things too). Nature also includes hurricanes, this horrible parasite that burrows out from people’s skin, and a myriad of deadly viruses that no one quite understands. To quote one of my favorite fictional rants:
“Nature is not kind; it is not good. Do you really think nature cares about any individual living thing?”
“Nature is the force that propels bees to fly themselves to death just for the chance to mate with their queen. Nature is the anaconda that swallows a baby pig alive to be digested slowly and painfully over several days. Why is that necessary?”
“Sure, nature provides us with food and warmth, but it also makes volcanoes that burn forests, animals, and people alike; a tsunami that destroys everything in its path. Nature is both generous and destructive, beautiful and monstrous, but most of all nature is indifferent.”
That’s Grandpa Baumler speaking, the bad guy in my novel, The First. I should note here that Baumler isn’t exactly human. He goes on to argue that to save the world for his people, they must get rid of all the polluting humans. But he’s a bad guy, he’s got to take it over the top. Still, he has a point.
I hate the reductionist argument that pits ‘progress lovers’ vs. ‘nature lovers.’ No one could really love unaltered nature for itself; that would be insane. Do you love polio? How about arsenic? They’re all natural! Personally, I love vaccines, and even modern agriculture should get its due. Despite all its problems, it’s been key to feeding millions of people. I don’t love nature. I love nature that is adapted just enough to allow me (and humankind) live.
On the otherside, loving economic ‘progress’ with no constraints is equally insane. If we mess with nature too much, we poison the air, the water, or our own food supply, we’ll kill ourselves. (Of course, nature in the form of a giant asteroid or global infectious disease might kill us anyway, but really, do you want to force the issue?)
No matter what we do to the environment, short of blowing up the whole world, nature will survive, greatly changed, of course, but something will survive. And not just the inanimate part of nature but life too. It takes a lot to kill off all life. We can dump plastic into the oceans, make genetically modified everything, even throw a few massive nuclear bombs in the mix , and still something will survive, most likely in the form of cockroaches or bacteria. But humans won’t. Now that’s the point, and that’s what we should talk about when we talk about being an environmentalist.
We need to reign in pollution, not for nature’s sake but for our own sake. Because if we don’t, we won’t be part of the nature that survives. I know cockroaches are part of nature, but they’re awfully hard to love.
Photo by Neil Turner via Creative Commons
What do you think? Am I crazy? How do you define environmentalism?