Nature is one of my klaxon words. Whenever I hear it, I wince and worry. This is a harsh reaction, but it comes from good reason.
Let me explain a little.
Nature is ill defined. Everything around us is nature. We are a part of nature. It may look like the world is split into the artificial human constructs and the green and luscious land that has escaped it, but don’t forget that one gave birth to the other. Humanity has not escaped nature, it has just taken it to unexpected places. But nature never had expectations in the first place. It’s a false dichotomy, or at least, it’s not the dichotomy we like to think of it as.
Why are we so addicted to splitting ourselves off from the world that built us? Arrogance? Competitive drive? Do we need an enemy or a utopia?
We love the notion of a fall from Eden. At some point we were in harmony with the world around us, living as equals among the plants and animals. Then everything went wrong. Sin entered the world. We civilised.
We have a lot of self hating mythology, really.
It’s backwards, but we appear to maintain this split, calling out our own society as the bad guy, to justify our badness. By distancing ourselves from the enemy under our feet (and our concrete), we reinforce our unique specialness. Our separateness marks our special ability to do what we want.
We are not unthinking nature. We are worse, but our worseness allows us to be better. Our betterness is arrogance that justifies whatever we want. And what we want is destruction.
So, after much rambling preamble, what would caring for nature even look like?
I can watch my garden grow. I can feed it it and look after it until it starts giving me food. I care for it, and it pays me back.
But my garden, quite explicitly, is not nature.
Even on a grander scale, ecology and conservation are marking human boundaries around pieces of ‘nature’. Making choices about how nature should run in those areas. It’s caring, but it’s also control.
To actually care for nature, we have to acknowledge our place within it. Not just acknowledge, but re-evaluate it. Work it out for ourselves.
We don’t know where we belong. We hang on to our hang ups so we can say we are separate from the world that birthed us, and will eat us when we’re dead.
Our intellect allows us to make these choices, and we think that is enough for us to escape the laws of the land, but we don’t. We just change the scale a little bit.
‘Nature’ is all around us. Our hostile and negative environments are new ecosystems. They are bad for us, but the world understands.
The world doesn’t care. But we can. And we should. Not for the sake of some idealised Eden. But for ourselves and for empathy.
Don’t second guess nature.
Illustration by Jaime