Nature as FaithBy Ruth Rosenhek
for publication in Chain Reaction (Friends of the Earth National Publication)May 25, 2005At a party the other night, a friend and I were discussing the Howard government’s recent announcement to protect a large amount of the Tarkine rainforest wilderness. We found ourselves speculating, as Australians are wont to do, on whether the Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine might still be living in Tasmania.“I have a strong faith in nature,” said my friend. He went on to describe how a large swathe of rainforest in the Ecuadorian Amazon had been clearfelled “and just 3 months later the regrowth was enormous. The saplings were this high,” he said as he placed his hand two metres off the ground.The Earth’s power of regeneration is astounding. Living as we do next to the rainforests of northern New South Wales, we know all too well how whole communities can be swallowed up within a matter of years; if clear boundaries are not set for the adjacent forests, a community which once boasted vastness and a view can quickly become implanted in lush, moist forest lands.The same happens in the chasms that follow geological eras. If we open our lens deep in time we learn that the Earth herself has suffered 5 major extinction spasms losing up to 96% of the species at a time. Yet, according to evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson, at each such occurrence, profound waves of life expansion and species diversification follow within 5-10 million years as nature reoccupies all the available niches; every biological nook and cranny teems with life once again.For instance, 65 million years ago, an asteroid 6 kilometres in diameter hit the Yucatan peninsula leading to the fifth mass extinction. Sixty to eighty percent of species including dinosaurs were eliminated signaling an end to the Cretaceous period. Over the course of the next 10 million years, the rich biodiversity that blossomed forth into the Cenezoic era reached new heights, with more species in existence than at any time previously in the 4.5 billions years of the planet’s history.Nature’s capacity to rebound and recover with awe inspiring resilience is certainly reassuring when we look squarely in the eye at the current ecological devastation that is sweeping across the planet.More troublesome though are the immediate threats to a myriad of life forms on the planet, threats that imperil those we humans have never even met as well as those at the top of the food chain like…ourselves.A great swathe of the Amazon might regenerate itself easily, but when too many pristine forests are reduced to islands, too many wetlands desiccated, too many rivers dammed, no amount of regenerative power can bring back the many species who rely on large areas of intact habitat for their survival.Of serious concern is whether we humans can stem our destructive activities in favor of life sustaining ones. While we might easily have faith in nature it is far more challenging to have faith in ourselves, in our ability to turn around lifestyles based on greed, consumption, exploitation of the natural systems, decimation of indigenous peoples, the list goes on.Deep Ecology is a philosophy of nature that addresses the ever widening gulf between humans and nature. To deep ecology, western culture’s blatant disrespect for the environment is caused by its insidious anthropocentrism. Rather than appreciating life quality and the inherent value in all life forms, western culture values largeness and competitive “power-over” relationships.From a deep ecology perspective a radical transformation of consciousness is required if we are ever to find a way to live harmoniously together on the planet. This shift in values and beliefs is one in which humans, specifically white western culture, remember that we are inextricably embedded in the biological fabric from which all life springs forth. As plain and simple members of the biota, as naturalist Aldo Leopold so aptly put it, we humans can come to realize that we have no right to reduce the richness and diversity of the splendors around us except to satisfy vital human needs.Fortunately, with the generous strength and exquisite beauty of nature, there is hope that humans who pursue greed and egocentric rewards can find their way back to a more meaningful harmonious lifestyle. Nature has the power to break through all levels of social conditioning and political pressures. A famous example of this is when Tachi Kiuchi, of Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, visited the Malaysian rainforests and found himself the receiver of numerous insights.“When I visited the rainforest, I thought: As business people, we have been looking at the rainforest all wrong. What is valuable about the rainforest is not omote -- the TREES, which we can take out. What is valuable is ura -- the DESIGN, the RELATIONSHIPS, from which comes the real value of the forest. When we take trees from the forest, we can ruin its design. But when we take LESSONS from the forest, we further its purpose. We can develop the HUMAN ecosystem into as intricate and creative a system as we find in the rainforest. We can do more with less. Grow without shrinking.” [i]There is also the classic story of how Aldo Leopold, the ‘hunter’ was transformed to ‘naturalist’. Out hunting one day Leopold killed an old wolf. As he reached this old wolf, he arrived just in time to witness a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. He was a young man then, and full of what he calls trigger-itch. His thinking was that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire in the wolf’s eyes die, he sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view. And so he became a naturalist.Deep Ecology suggests that, like Aldo Leopold, when we steep ourselves in Nature we can realize that the human nature “in here” and the nature we think of as “out there” are in fact one continuous body. From this perspective it is not unthinkable that we too could partake of nature’s astounding power of regeneration, beauty and creativity. The human spirit, clearfelled by anthropocentrism, could spring forth anew no longer hypnotized by the values of the last ten thousand years or so but instead emboldened by the majestical exuberance of billions of years of living evolution.So I would have to agree with my friend that I too have a mystical faith in Nature. Not only is nature a miracle maker, nature also has the capacity to stun us out of our short sighted self serving ways and open us up to the larger collective, the Earth community, which we are a part of. A miracle might well be needed to save the preciousness of the Cenezoic era but I wouldn’t put it past Mother Nature to pull off such a feat. Every day babies are born, life evolves in daring and creative ways, who knows. Perhaps as the poet Rilke says [ii]If we surrenderedto earth’s intelligencewe could rise up rooted, like trees.Now. I’ll drink to that!
from a keynote address to the World Future Society on July 19, 1997, by Tachi Kiuchi, Member of the Board of Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, Chairman of the Future 500, and immediate past Chairman and CEO of Mitsubishi Electric America. Mr. Kiuchi heads the global communications and Industrial Ecology programs of the Mitsubishi Electric companiesRilke’s Book of Hours, Love Poems to God Translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy