As the heartbreaking BP oil spill continues to grow in the gulf, cynical right-wing oil company apologists like Rush Limbaugh turn wise sages, intoning timeless truths about the natural world’s ability to take care of and heal itself. As an eco-conscious, yoga-practicing, suitably left-wing Elephant columnist, I should probably disagree, but the truth is: they’re right…in a way.
The planet’s experienced a lot worse. Hell, pumping every kind of toxin into our ground, air, and water while carelessly wasting every natural resource we can find is perhaps the single most defining characteristic of human society. Nonetheless, in big-picture terms, our total effect on Mother Earth really hasn’t amounted to anything more serious than a bad case of planetary eczema or psoriasis. And, the way things are going, we won’t be bothering her for long.
The most significant detrimental effect we’d be likely to have on planetary ecology, more than global warming or any number of toxic spills, would be all out thermonuclear war. As we learned back in the 80’s, when that seemed imminent, however, the worst case scenario is that it might be similar to what happened after that giant meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs…and the planetary ecosystem came back from that just fine, didn’t it?
All we’re really doing, then, is making the planetary environment increasingly unhealthy for higher life forms, leading to their extinction: passenger pigeons, polar bears, and…um…uh oh…people….
Houston, we have a problem.
One thing you hear a lot if you try talking to people about the environment is some variation of: it’s not that I don’t care about forests/oceans/ecology in general, I just care more about people. Which is kinda telling the doctor who’s asked you to quit drinking and smoking, I don’t care about my heart and lungs, I just wanna enjoy life.
(Okay, lots of people actually do think that way…guess there’s something to be said for not treating the earth any worse than your own body).
Anyway, the only thing dumber is the way some crunchy types concede the point: okay, true, you’ve got the health, happiness, and upwardly mobile lifestyles of humanity on your side, but we’ve got Romantic ideas about nature, pronouncements from ancient spiritual traditions you couldn’t care less about, misanthropy, Marvin Gaye songs, and pictures of adorable animals.
Like it or not, outside the Boulder city limits, not everybody gets all that worked up about about poisoned wetlands and oil-covered birds—(yes, Waylon, I know the Buddha says they should…but they don’t)—but they might if they realized that contrary to what Neil Young sang, Mother Nature is not on the run in this or any other century. We are, because what happens to the sea turtles, sooner or later, is gonna happen to us (in fact, it is happening). What it all comes down to is this: we need the earth…but the earth doesn’t need us. No matter how much damage we seem to be doing, if we make war on our ecosystem, as we’re doing, and as the likes of Limbaugh would like us to continue doing, we’re gonna lose.
But, yes, nature will, in the end, be just fine…without us.
*kind of a completely different sarcastic essay version of an ultra-serious prose poem type of thing from Yoga for Cynics*