The Environmental Movement is as Alienated from Nature as its Foes
Why effectively addressing problems like climate change means breaking the West’s dualism habit
People like to think a lot about their place in the universe. This trait of ours is responsible for everything from our university philosophy and science departments to the self-help section at the local bookstore. It’s the reason I’m writing this article and lies at the root of every author’s motivation to get out of bed in the morning.
Of course, from every other creature’s perspective, it also appears they’re at the center of things. However, because only a small handful of species are thought to even approach our level of self-awareness, we feel comfortable assuming that none of them experience our sense of importance. Regardless, everyone seems to agree that when it comes to our ability to dramatically reshape our environment for both good and ill we’re unique.
This ability of ours to willfully plan and create change is a source of hope as well as much of our current anxiety. We are a species torn between the belief that we can find a solution to whatever problems we may encounter or create and the fear that, like Icarus trying to fly to the sun, at any moment we may be about to plunge back to earth.
The notion that we can alter our environment so dramatically as to effectively destroy the planet requires us to reach conclusions beyond just the extent of our power. It also requires us to assume something about our world’s fragility.
For something like 99.9% of our planet’s existence, we weren’t here. Life in some form has been around for over 3.5 billion years with complex life exploding onto the scene over 500 million years ago. Modern humans became a part of this story only about 150,000 years ago. Before we came along there were asteroid and comet impacts, volcanic activity that dramatically altered the climate, and a planetary takeover by oxygen-producing species that poisoned the atmosphere for everybody else while paving the way for everything that followed.
This brief outline of life’s history should be common knowledge within every advanced culture by now. Yet we continue to resist the humility that such data demands…