A beaver dam is part of the natural environment. The CO2 being released into the environment by the burning of fossil fuels is a part of the natural environment. Automobiles are part of the natural environment. The space shuttle is a part of the natural environment.
Some of these statements are bound to ruffle a few enviro and eco feathers.
Many people believe that humans are not separate from the web of life but are an integral part of it. Yet, they arbitrarily draw lines eliminating some human activities as not natural.
We protect the bald eagle with its sharp eyes, high soaring and sharp talons. They would celebrate these genetic tools. We would defend the beaver’s right to build dams. We could argue that it is an ecological process of enrichment and regrowth; not destructive and besides it is the genetically determined tools that have evolved. There is probably no animal or plant that we would demean for the tools it uses to be effective and survive. These tools allow it efficacy and control.
Yet we humans do nothing more or less than the eagle and the beaver. We use our evolved faculties in the same way. Although I don’t consider tool development and use to be the defining factor of being human, it is obviously a component or off shoot of the faculties that have evolved in the generation of our species. All humans make and use tools.
Most of our tools and activities have analogs (similarities) in nature. When the impatiens flower has gone to seed, the structure holding the seeds is under tension. The slightest jarring will spring the structure open, exploding the seeds far from the plant. This is only one of many mechanisms that life uses to spread itself into new environments. How in the long run is the space shuttle different?
Many plants will release chemicals into the soil around them to discourage, if not kill, other invading plants. There are many insects that use various methods to protect themselves and their territory; i.e., camouflage or poisons. And, of course, there are urine markings of territory by dogs and other animals. How does this differ from fences, deeds, copyrights, patents, and wars to protect territories that we humans use?
Perhaps for some people they can hold the distinction between humans being a natural, integral part of the natural environment and some but not all of there activities also being a part of the natural environment, I get confused where to draw the line. More importantly by separating some of our activities from our naturalness, we move it away from us. It allows us to throw up our hands in dismay. It allows us to deny responsibility.
This is the rub. If we do not accept that all we do is a natural outcome of our innate abilities, then we can claim a lack of control, an inertia to the technological process, an innocence to whatever the outcomes of our activities. This attitude I believe prevails among the many peoples of the industrialized nations. It provides a subtle shift that allows non-responsibility.
There is a popular fiction among many environmental thinkers that if we could only live more naturally, things would be better. This usually means some minimal use of tools - from gathering and hunting to rudimentary agriculture. This is both a denial of our inherent aptitude and a move away from responsibility for all of our behavior.
It is not my purpose here to say all technology is good or bad. This is mute question if it is natural. The environment both locally and globally respond to our activities just as it does to prairie fires from lightening strikes, the natural rhythms of global climate or the earth being struck by a large meteor.
Responsibility is at the core of this essay. We are an incredibly successful animal (thus far) with genetic tools that allow powerful change. We have all the drives for species survival and reproduction of any other animal. We deny in a subtle way that we are part of nature by denying that are various means of survival are part of the ongoing evolution in nature. This allows a blind spot that is very dangerous, because we can shirk responsibility saying, “the devil made me do it.”
If we accept the whole of our participation on the earth taking responsibility for it as part of our powerful survival abilities, this raises several questions.
1. What are our tools that are the equivalent of the hawk’s eyes, talons and soaring ability?
2. If we assess a danger to our impact on the earth how do we choose an approach or measure for sustainability?
3. Are there clues that we must rein in our technology and become responsible for it?