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Wednesday 13 November 2019
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Fires, floods, nature and us

The horrors of human interaction, the maiming and killing without end, here and elsewhere, may be depressing, but we should save some of our emotional energy for contemplating the more disastrous problem we face of the ravaging the planet on which we live.

Dorian smashes the Bahamas, thousands of fires start in the Amazon, flash flooding buries a few people and their animals somewhere in the Far East, massive polar icecaps melt and raise ocean levels, in Europe more forest fires blaze – all this while more tropical storms, some of which have the potential to become hurricanes, line up, ready to charge across the Atlantic and into us.

All of these are powerful acts of nature. In a battle against any of the elements of wind, fire, water, air and earth, I give myself very little chance.

Yet we think of the Earth as vulnerable. We also think of ourselves as superior to all other forms of life, and of urban man as having more value than indigenous people or country dwellers. It is just another case of them and us, and in regard to our planet, of it and us.

The “bring it on” response of the president of Brazil to the razing of the Amazon took everyone by surprise, but it should not have done so, since his clearly stated policy was to open up the world’s most important oxygen chamber to livestock farming.

Encroaching upon the Amazon is not new, but the thousands of recent Amazonian fires have been encouraged by the present Brazilian government and in response to poor people spilling out of Brazil’s densely populated urban and suburban areas and, over time, trying to find a life by launching another fateful land grab to engage in farming. They have had to clear the most pristine and ancient forests for planting food and raising cattle, which we now know is a major contributor to global warming, causing more frequent, dramatic and erratic weather patterns.

Their actions are also displacing Brazil’s indigenous peoples, who have lived a symbiotic life with nature for centuries, unlike the rest of us, who have come to view the world, its people and the environment as “other,” something remote from us.

I once read that the ideal size of a human community is around 200 individuals. Maybe if we lived in such small groups, as indigenous people, we would feel more connected to each other and to nature and the environment and lose this harmful dominance of the self, the individual, the triumph of the ego.

I remember many years ago asking a child in London where milk came from and hearing that it came from a bottle. Nowadays, the average London child might say a carton, since bottled milk no longer exits, or hopefully, even from a cow, since knowledge of the environment is much greater now that it was a few decades ago.

It is, however, quite alarming that here or there children would not know some of the same animals and insects that older generations grew up with or even varieties of fruit or food, simply because they have disappeared altogether or are in serious retreat.

Our approach to nature as being bountiful and ours for the picking is slowly changing. We have to hasten the pace at which we make laws that by their enforcement and practice teach us to see that nature as one with us, not over there, to use as we wish or take as we feel.

Many countries have nature reserves and protected areas, but that does not go far enough to facilitate the development of a more advanced view to living sustainably.

I was happy to read last week that in Ecuador and Bolivia, which both have large indigenous populations and border on the Amazon region, their constitutions give nature rights, like human beings have rights.

We can take heart at the emergence of the Rights of Nature movement and Earth jurisprudence, which argue that nature needs legal protection with rights, which can be represented by human beings, to exist, persist and renew their life cycles. These laws would change the idea of our ownership of natural resources and alter the relationship between man and nature.

Presidents Trump and Bolsonaro may reject the science, but there is increased acceptance of the holistic nature of the human body, and of the environment too, and even of planetary systems that make life possible.

What we need is for the politics, economic theory and law-making to come up to speed quickly internationally so that we can preserve what is left and ensure our survival. The UN should take a lead role in this.

It may seem far-fetched now but not by 2050. The unstoppable increase in the size of the human population makes this not just a hope but, rather, a necessity.

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