Allow me to float an idea past you. Something I’ve been thinking about over the last few weeks. I’d be interested to know if it resonates with anyone.
It strikes me that environmentalism is an odd thing – an ideology or social movement around the protection of the earth. When you think about it, it shouldn’t be necessary. The earth is our home, and we all take care of the places where we live. We fix a leaking roof. We keep it in some semblance of order, some more successfully than others. It becomes an inconvenience, even a danger, if we don’t. The earth as a whole is no different.
Why does it get so complicated then? How does caring for our planetary home become ‘environmentalism’, whether that’s local or global? How does it get so political, and then become an ideology in opposition to others?
Perhaps part of the reason we need environmentalism is because we engage so little with the environment. We live in a neatly sealed and tarmacked world. Light, water and temperature are all controlled. Nature is outside, something we engage with only by choice, and usually in very controlled ways – in the park, or a country walk through fields. We might keep pets or feed the birds, but there is almost no wildness, for most of us. We rarely get to see nature at its most free and beautiful.
Nature has been domesticated, here in the West. The only time when it surprises us are when it trumps our human systems – when snow blocks the roads, or droughts force a hosepipe ban, or when a volcano grounds our flight home. Or at the more mundane end of things, we encounter nature when the pollen count makes us sneeze, or a picnic is rained off, or when there’s a wasp in the living room, bouncing off the window. In other words, we often encounter nature as a problem, something to be managed, an inconvenience to our ordered world.
There’s an incredible freedom to this, it should be mentioned. Our ancestors were at the mercy of nature, and that’s a bad place to be. But I wonder if we’ve gone too far. We are so disconnected from nature that we need an environmental movement to convince us, often unsuccessfully, that the earth matters – something that would surely have been an inconceivable and even surreal idea to previous generations.
How do we rebalance our view of nature? By learning to see it and appreciate it, presumably. If we don’t appreciate it, we won’t value it or care for it. Climate change will remain unresolved, pollution will increase, species will go extinct. If we’re going to care for nature, and value our home, we need to learn to see it again. To find it beautiful. And that means we need to make more room for it in our lives. As David Attenborough says “No one will protect what they do not care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced.”
The key to preventing runaway climate change, the exhaustion of our natural resources, and stopping species extinction is not more information – telling people how much this matters, or warning of the dire consequences of ignoring it. The key to all these things is going to be love. We have to love the world we live in.
If we loved the natural world, we wouldn’t need environmentalism. It would be obsolete.