The "Death of Birth" and Losing Nature
We are less human if we forget to nurture our nature connection.
Posted June 2, 2019
When is the last time you welcomed a spider or a fly? Your chances to do so are diminishing. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) issued a report recently giving a dire warning that immediate action is needed. After decades of many such warnings, the “death of birth” is accelerating. IPBES predicts that due to human practices a million or more species will become extinct within decades, many of which have been around for perhaps millions of years (Bormann & Kellert, 1991).
The massive extinction of species and ecosystems is one of the four horsemen of the ecological apocalypse, along with massive toxicities that industrial culture introduces in soil, air, water, and our bodies; the degradation of the atmosphere (e.g., ozone depletion); and global warming from excessive carbon and other emissions (E.O. Wilson, 1991).
All these are recent practices spearheaded by a subsection of humanity.
Humans evolved to have a deep sensory connection to and awareness of the natural world. Peoples who live immersed in nature have deep impressions of nature. For example, they recognize tree species by the sounds the wind makes in their leaves. And they recognize many kinds of winds. From deep observation, they understand the signals of mosses, animal behavior, and cloud formation. They can track animals and find food sources in natural environments (Cajete, 2000; Kimmerer, 2012).
The Americas were a paradise when first encountered by European explorers. Their diaries report wildlife so abundant it was hard to navigate rivers, which were filled with otters and salmon (Narvaez et al., 2019). Native peoples lived comfortably with an abundance of animal neighbors, including predators, to the astonishment of missionaries and other reporters (Madley, 2016). Like First Nation peoples around the world today, the attitude towards the natural world was one of cooperative partnership in maintaining the health of the biocommunity to meet the needs of all (Descola, 2017).
As people moved into human-built environments and away from the immersed experience in healthy forests, mountains, and waterways, their senses were increasingly dulled, and their skills to get along with a diverse natural world atrophied (Martin, 1992, 1999; Merchant, 2003). The other-than-human became aversive, unless controllable like pets or houseplants.
With advancements in technology, nature disconnection has become more and more widespread—the forgetting of our origins and our sensory potential. And now ecological detachment is commonplace (Louv, 2005).
Humans learn by immersed experience. If a child, then adult, is not regularly immersed in a complex natural world, the ability to perceive, respond to, and understand nature is diminished. It becomes “rational” to ignore nature’s complexity (Myers, 1991), even to feel superior and justify dominance over it (Narvaez, 2014).
Humans also learn from mimesis or imitation. We follow what we see others do, hence the power of advertising, movies, and social media. When we see others fear nature, destroy it, or treat it as if inert, we learn to do the same.
The species apocalypse taking place now is not so disturbing if you have been trained over and over to perceive many insects and animals as “pests” to be exterminated rather than treated as partners in the ecosystem. Pouring toxins on gardens and yards seems reasonable in this “us-against-nature” worldview.
The IPBES report notes that humanity’s current practices are eroding the very foundations of human economies, food security, livelihoods, health, and quality of life all over the world. In every neighborhood, "transformative changes" are needed to restore and protect nature.
What can you do?
- Restore your psychological connection to nature.
- Open your senses and relearn the languages of nature.
- Practice immersion in nature with core routines, games and storytelling.
- Plant native plants in your garden.
- Avoid using toxic substances in your home and yard.
The IPBES report also points out that opposition from vested interests can be overcome for the public good. If we shift our own worldviews, we have a better chance of shifting the worldviews and practices at the global level.
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