On Nature

Written by Mike Parish, Illustrated by Dan Tarnowski
On Nature

ENVI 101

On an exam in college, there was a bonus question that was a map of campus. Above the map it said, “Label where “Nature” begins.” SUNY Binghamton is home to a wonderful Nature Preserve; it is many, many acres of woods and trails and hills and hiking. On first glance, this area of the campus map was the obvious answer. Given that this was a bonus question, and that it seemed too silly to count if answered correctly or not, I left it blank and got up and handed in my test. At the time, I didn’t give it much thought.

Some weeks later, the test was handed back. Besides general rumblings, there wasn’t any discussion of the bonus. The TA was not sure about it and told me if I was interested, I should ask the professor. So I did.

It turns out that the bonus was a survey question. The class was huge, maybe 150 or 200 students, all undergraduates. The professor had actually tallied up the results of the answer to the question for his own interest. Nearly every single student who answered the question marked the Nature Preserve, the quad, and even some of the individual yards and lawns of the campus as where “nature” begins. It was a very open ended question but nobody really got it right. How could that be?

So Where Exactly Is Nature?

It turns out that nature is everywhere. Nature is not the natural areas between buildings or the parks set aside for recreation. Nature is everything and everyone and that is something people tend to forget.

As civilization has advanced and industrialization set in, we’ve lost track of our roots. It is mind-boggling to look at the world and realize that everything humans have created was at one point part of the natural environment; imagine finding an iPod or an H3 Hummer or a skyscraper in the middle of a forest or at the bottom of a mine shaft. All of these creations were made from nature but no longer resemble it in the least.

People become more and more disconnected from nature as time goes on. The “Green Revolution” is turning out to be a bust: recycling plastic bags and buying “organic” isn’t doing much. We’re better off burying those plastic bags because of all the oil it takes to heat them up and break them down again and the standard by which the word “organic” has dropped since the 1970’s makes it’s meaning void. Green is simply the next stage of consumerism, an elite consumerism at that, a consumerism for the wealthy.

Making “Green” Cool

Going green and eating organics seems to have infiltrated the cultural consciousness and people may think a little bit more before making decisions, but mainstream culture is behind the trend. These ideas existed in large part of the counter culture in the 60’s and 70’s and is only becoming a part of mainstream culture now. Why has mainstream culture adopted these ideas and why does everybody suddenly want in?

For a long time, nature was uncool. Human history can be viewed as the history of humans beating up on the environment, exploiting natural resources for economic gains. A stunning example was the age of exploration, where European countries rushed to claim settlements over other parts of the globe. Today, the terms have changed but the idea is still the same, only now, CEO’s of the world’s largest corporations are the kings looking to cash in on nature. How do they do it? By making nature cool to save.

Disclaimer

While much of this essay may come off as cynical and/or pessimistic, it is really hard one way or the other to understand how bad of a state the earth is in. I just find it hard to believe sometimes that everything is all right. From a young age, I’ve been taught to believe that everything is going to work out and that human ingenuity will save us from our shortcomings, but something just doesn’t feel right.

With that being said, I’ll gracefully step down from the soapbox, but before doing so I’ll leave with a final question. If mainstream culture is coming around to the idea of helping the planet and a small minority of people at the top stand to make a ton of money because of it, is it possible that we may really be in trouble? Is it possible that a small minority of people have realized the economic implications of a true green revolution, benefiting not only the earth but more importantly themselves? Though money doesn’t exist in nature either, where there is money to be made, people will figure out a way to make it.

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