May 24, 2020

A New Relationship with Nature

I had a terrible day in which I got hit with a bunch of fraudulent charges on my bank account from some scammer and the bank was not helping me and I spent hours on hold, or battling with voicemail robots or tangling with actual humans trying to persuade them to help me, and it was a miserable time. Finally, when I had done all I knew how to do and was overcome with futility I took a break and walked outside.

And wow! I saw the trees in their voluptuous spring bloom against the bright blue sky, breathed in the rich sea hair, chilly with a spark of warmth to hint of summer coming on, and I felt instantly different. I was re-grounded and much better. And it reminded me of what I learn over and over: that nature is the most reassuring friend.

Of all the changes the global human community has gone through during the havoc created by COVID, I think the most profound change underlying all the rest is a new relationship with nature.

Nature has spoken to us in a language much more profound than any political ideology, or all the propaganda we ever heard that promoted environmental destruction. In America we’ve been indoctrinated for a generation into a belief system that holds that greed is good, that money is the greatest good, and if something doesn’t make money there is no reason for it to even exist, and that extends to human beings. But nature reached its limit with us and with one crack of the whip showed us where the real power is, and forced us to change our ways.

Of course most people want to get “back to normal” as soon as possible, but we know that we will never be quite back to what we were. And no matter how much Charles Koch may order his politician and media army to force the world back to the previous normal, that message from nature was a lot more powerful than all the pro-fossil fuel propaganda of the last 20 years.

Having traveled to many of the world’s most beautiful and often endangered places, I have developed an image of a society that is operating according to a system that is not sustainable. Economic principles are often leading to absurd tragedies, such as the fact that the existence of a market in Asia for rhino horn as an aphrodisiac is leading toward the extinction of the rhino.

This is an example of a process that leads to an outcome that benefits no one, beyond the immediate demands of a market. If rhinos go extinct, even the people buying rhino horn will not be happy. And yet it goes on, and it does threaten the extinction of the rhino, though great efforts are being made to stop it.

The same kinds of absurdities are playing out all over the world. The Amazon Jungle, the last great jungle in the world, the “lungs of the world,” consisting of ancestral forests that have evolved essentially for eternity and cannot be replaced, is being destroyed wantonly, rapidly, almost feverishly, by profit seekers who seem to be almost rabid to pull whatever profit they out of destruction.

The scientific experts in these matters warn us of climate change and a myriad of other dangers brought about by our rapaciousness. The most intelligent people around the world with the most acute survival instincts pay attention to those experts and know that our present way of life is not sustainable. And yet no one knows how to stop it. The machine cranks on. We all take our place in our part of it. We donate our life energies to fuel it, and it proceeds to destroy our planetary home.

As a species we are intelligent enough to understand what is happening, that our present ways are leading to destruction. But we can’t stop. No one knows how to put their hand on the lever and stop the machine. Conscientious young prophets like Greta Thunberg call us out on our insanity, our paralysis in the face of a planetary mortal threat: Why aren’t you doing anything? And we shrug.

It’s as if we are hypnotized by our own habitual ways of looking at the world. And now suddenly a global catastrophe has stopped us. Nature has shown its might and forced us all to pay attention. It’s a “be still and know that I am God” moment. Nature has much larger forces it could unleash on us. It’s being gentle. It’s time we paid attention, while we still have a habitable environment in which to live.

The change has already taken place, and now we will see how it manifests as the shockwaves move through all the structures of civilization as the world works through this change. What will the world look like after the COVID period? And rest assured, COVID will have its name on a period. This is a huge event, far too big for us to perceive this close to it.

We will watch how it manifests now. There will be no turning back. But I’m quite optimistic about the future, oddly enough, when there seems so little to indicate any positive outcomes. Still. The foundation has been shaken, our civilization will reassemble itself on a new footing. What that will look like is yet to be seen. But I do have reason to be optimistic.

This catastrophe in which 100,000 Americans have already died has laid bare the weaknesses of our society as it is structured to deal with any incident of any magnitude that may strike a society in the 21st Century.

The weaknesses of our society to deal with a variety of problems such as natural disasters is revealed to us in various incidents, Hurricane Katrina, the devastation of Puerto Rico, the human rights catastrophe at our southern border. The spotlight shifts from one disaster to another, and then public attention moves on to the next news cycle and the next disaster, or scandal, or Trump’s latest attack.

Now we have an incident that focuses the consciousness of practically the entire world on a single point. As vulnerable as democracy is to ignorance and demagoguery, I find myself trusting the majority when it comes to considerations such as the destruction of the planet. It’s really only a small minority who think it’s profitable to destroy the environment, and therefore it’s justified. Most people really don’t believe that.

So I think the massive natural disaster of COVID has delivered a message that has already changed humanity a little, an amount that may prove to be highly important when we look back in coming years. Now that it’s happened irrevocably, I’m eagerly anticipating the changes.

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