Unnatural Acts

I am bloody sick of nature romantics.

I realized this today, having read one more “Humans are unnatural and the bad guys, animals all live in harmony with their environment!” post. As the Valley-dwelling natives of years past might have said–“Gag me with a spoon!”

I like nature. I love animals. Frogs fill me with glee. I gots no beef with plants, either. I resent clearcutting and monocultured forests, and I will sign any petition you like to save the endangered spotted rumped sapsucker. I cheer when I see a wild trillium. If and when I am financially successful, I will dump money on the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy with a glad heart. But I do all this because I like and respect nature, and have a great affection for the myriad of animal species, not because I’m some kind of fruitcake wandering around saying “Humans bad! Animals live in harmony with each other!”

No. They don’t. Ecosystems don’t balance because all the predators are careful to husband their prey. Wolves eat the sick and old not because they’ve got some kind of mandate from Mother Earth as clean-up crew, but because the sick and old are easy to catch. (They also eat the young and stupid, but this fact seems to get glossed over a lot.) Ecosystems balance because everybody wants to stay alive, eat, and have as many of their kids survive as possible in the long run; and a healthy ecosystem is where everybody keeps everybody else in check. And as for the unnaturalness of humans…well, animals wreak huge amounts of change on their environment. Huge, huge, huge. Look at cattle wallows, or what happens to a forest when a group of pissed-off elephants decides to knock things down. Look at beavers! Look at goats, fer cryin’ out loud! Look at plants, at those primitive single-celled buggers billions of years ago, who figured out that if they produced oxygen as a by-product, they could annhilate the competition, who were products of an anerobic atmosphere and couldn’t handle the nasty, toxic, corrosive poison that is oxygen. 99% of the life on earth died in one fell swoop from those smug little oxygen-excreters, one of the first acts of chemical warfare, and something that humanity has not yet come even remotely close to duplicating.

Is this unnatural? If a red tide kills fish for fifty miles in any direction, is it unnatural? We have records of them from thousands of years ago, when human alteration of the environment was minimal. And the lemmings–let’s not forget the lemmings. Is this unnatural? Is making any change to your environment “unnatural” or, as I suspect, are these just categories constructed by humans?

Either humans are animals, and thus our effects are as natural as elephants knocking down a forest, or nature commits grossly unnatural acts–you cannot have it both ways. Me, I’m saying that humans are animals. Big brained, clever, brilliant animals, animals with opposable thumbs, animals who can worry about whether or not anything is “natural” or not. Animals who sometimes romanticise nature as this glorious thing in which everyone lives in harmony with their environment and is happy.

Now. That said, why am I irritated by the “romanticization” of nature? Is it hurting anybody? Well, frankly, yes, I think it is. Sloppy thinking irritates me, but beyond that, if we romanticize nature, we run the risk of putting it on a pedestal and saying “anything natural is good.” But it isn’t! Smallpox and plague are natural, broken legs are natural. Medicine is terribly unnatural. The leading causes of death among early hominids were childbirth and tooth decay–that was natural. Getting eaten by leopards was pretty damn natural, let me tell you. Rape and murder and infanticide are all very natural, as is beating the crap out’ve your neighbor because you want their banana. And right now, humans, in their effort to live as long as they can and have as many kids as possible live, are acting VERY natural, and that has gotta stop!

If we’re gonna survive, and be a species that can look itself in the mirror, we gotta stop acting like the other animals. We have to limit our numbers and our impact and think about the long term effects of what we do, and not beat other people up for their bananas. We have to live with our environment, not in some kind of starry-eyed notion of harmony (which springs from this romanticized notion of what harmony is), but in a way that no other animal does–carefully. Thoughtfully. Practically. Understanding that what we do will have repercussions.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that if humans are unnatural, then embrace it, because acting unnaturally is the only thing that’s gonna save nature. And, completely unnaturally, I have a fondness for many parts of it.

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