Our Place in the World
My eldest son, Harry, is mad about nature. If you ask him “What would you like to do this weekend?”, he’ll respond with the name of one of half-a-dozen nature reserves. At six years old, his knowledge of birds in particular is quite remarkable – he’ll spot a nuthatch or a reed warbler from quite a distance.
As most boys of his age do, he asks lots of questions, many of which start “Dad, does nature…” Sometimes I tease him “Well, you’re part of nature, what do you think?” He always gives me his nervous not-sure-about-this laugh.
And I think that this is the default, anthropocentric position of most if not all of us, that we somehow float above the natural world, observing it remotely. We like to point out to Harry that he still has to poo, just like everything else alive. That breaks the tension if nothing else.
Yep, we all have to eat, drink and poo – we are all part of nature, like it or not. There are three different dimensions:
- Spiritually: Everybody gets a spiritual lift from the natural world – evidenced by everything from higher hospital recovery rates amongst those with a natural view to higher prices on houses with river/sea views. Some take this to the extent of neo-spiritual nonsense with its healing crystals, prayer flags and Paulo Coelho books, but we don’t need to go all hippy-dippy to commune with nature – just walk to the top of a hill and breathe in.
- Physically: Everything physical we need, we get from nature – animal, mineral or vegetable – plus all the eco-system services we rely on like stable climate, screening the sun’s rays and waste disposal. Many businesses forget this, but they are embedded into the natural environment and highly reliant upon it. Therefore it makes practical sense to nurture the natural world rather than ravaging it.
- Intellectually: the scientific discipline of ‘biomimicry’ has shown us many ways we can learn from the way nature does things. Nature has been pretty sustainable for over 2 billion years so it has much to teach us whether on a macro level like the circular economy or in micro level solutions like emulating sharkshin on boat hulls to avoid using toxic anti-fouling.
And if you want to really experience nature, take a young child with you. They get it.