Last Friday was Earth Day, and I found this post’s cartoon in an article about that worldwide event. Unfortunately, the cartoon’s message accurately conveys how many people understand our relationship with our planet: Earth is our victim, and we are too stupid to stop hurting it. But that view is fundamentally flawed: These self-proclaimed “naturalists” act from a misguided premise that humans are “unnatural” and somehow separate from the earth.
That simply is not the case.
As a young man, my American Indian relatives helped me realize that I grew out of the earth, just as the trees, bees, birds, fish, and other animals. As my Aunt Ruth used to say to me, “When you hear me speak, it’s the earth speaking. And when you listen, it’s the earth listening.”
The English philosopher Alan Watts once put it this way: “We grow out of this world, in exactly the same way as the apples grow on the apple tree.”
Because I believe we and all other living things are of the earth, I do not consider humans “stupid.” I do not condemn humans for what we do to and with the earth any more than I curse the beaver for building a dam, or chastise the caterpillar for eating leaves.
All living things use the earth, consume the earth, contribute waste to the earth, and manipulate their environment. Life has an effect on everything around it. The beaver dam destroys habitat for some, and creates new habitat for others.
When I bought my iPhone, I helped Apple and hurt its competitors. I guess some would think our world better if I could have helped everyone, but that’s not how life on Earth works. Every action you and I take harms someone and helps someone else. That is the nature of our planet.
Years ago, I was approached by a Green Peace environmentalist, who suggested I was evil for working for a chemical company. She screamed at me, “You’re killing our planet. You and your company are evil!”
I replied to her, “I can’t answer for my company. What I do know is here we make products that go into pharmaceuticals that help people fight cancer. We are doing so as safely and responsibly as we know how. How is that evil?”
She yelled back, “But you’re making a mess of our environment. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
I answered, “Have you even been to a bat cave?”
“A bat cave––a cave in which bats live.”
“No, but what does that have to do with…”
I interrupted. “I have been in several bat caves in the U.S. and South America. Millions of bats live in them, all crowded together. They make a terrible mess of things. There is bat guano a foot deep on the cave floor and bat urine constantly rains down on you. The stench is almost unbearable.”
She looked at me as if to say, Why are you telling me this?
Then I asked her, “Do you consider bats evil?”
“Well no,” she responded. “That’s just what bats do.”
“So why then do you not grant people the same appreciation? I’m just a human being doing what all living things do. We all use and manipulate our environment for our survival. But unlike the bat, here we spend millions of dollars each year making sure that our actions have minimal impact on those with which we share our environment. Why are we evil and the bat not?”
She just looked at me like a deer in the headlights, turned, and approached one of my associates to begin screaming at her how evil she and our company were.
Humans are not stupid or evil. To call mankind stupid is to call the planet stupid. If we’re evil, then the earth is evil. Moreover, nothing that humans do with or to the planet is wrong or evil. People do what they must in order to survive and make a life for themselves––just like the beaver and bee.
I guess I have more faith in the planet than the naturalists do. I believe Earth to be a most intelligent being. Or as Aunt Ruth used to say, “She knows what she’s doing.” And I do not consider anything she does, including creating human beings who sometimes make a mess of things, wrong or evil.
As a result, I do not concern myself with assuring every single human activity has “zero impact” on the environment. For me, that’s un-natural thinking.
Nor do I obsess about ensuring all I consume is “natural.” I realize it’s all natural, even that which man has processed. Why is it that honey processed by bees is somehow more natural than milk or grain processed by people?
Finally, I don’t worry about the millions of my fellow humans living in Hong Kong, Mexico City, New Deli, or New York, all crowded together in high-rise communities and ghettos, making a mess of things. They’re just doing what humans do, the best they know how.
Of course, they would be well served by doing what they can to create a healthy environment for themselves and those with which they share the planet. We all would. On this, the naturalists and I agree.
But unlike the naturalists, I am confident that we will care for the earth, and that we and our planet will continue to thrive for a long, long time. Our Mother Earth, and therefore we, are simply too smart not to.