“Caring for nature” by Annika Garratt

This essay original appeared on Annika Garratt’s blog.

Mother Earth, by Annika Garratt

Mother Earth, by Annika Garratt

“Caring for nature.”

This is a phrase I find a little odd, simply because people have strange concepts of what Nature is. I remember in Sweden people expressed respect and care for “the nature” and they would go out into “the nature”, so there is this concept of Nature as a place, somewhere beyond the cities and towns, Nature is a wild place outside of human civilization. I find this a very strange use of the word “Nature” because it implies that Nature is something outside of the human realm, something that can be held at arms length and kept out of our lives. Doesn’t this seem totally ridiculous? Why is there this idea that human civilization is not “natural”?

“Why cannot cities—themselves “natural” in a way—also be conducive to the practice of pantheism? Perhaps cities could be if they and many of their people were not as neglected and abused as much as some wilderness areas (if the comparison makes any sense). “God’s country” for the pantheist denotes urban as well as pastoral settings—indeed it extends to the suburbs. Given the existence of a divine Unity one should not regard all personal preferences (e.g., for a garden), as cosmically endorsed. If the goal of pantheism is a way of life and a kind of “state,” then any locale that is generally conducive to promoting those goals is acceptable.” (“Pantheism”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

In the Medieval mind, the wilderness was the devil’s land, populated by demonic spirits of the forest. God didn’t live out there. God lived in the man-made churches. The wilderness was an amoral chaotic place, whereas human civilization had the potential to be orderly and pious. Nature was something to be feared, reigned in, and controlled. As humans studied Nature, we came to understand that Nature is not chaotic, but orderly. Physicists studied Nature’s Laws and came to regard the Universe as an orderly place.

There is a growing idea that “natural” is more trustworthy than man-made things. We have a polarised view of “natural products” and “artificial products”. Humans can’t be trusted to tamper with Nature’s wisdom. Now we think of Nature as an elderly fragile thing that we need to protect from the big bad world of humanity.

Hold on a minute. Are humans not products of Nature? Is civilization not wholly natural? Isn’t it only natural that humans should develop technology? Why do we imagine that Nature is separate from us? Nature is not “out there”, Nature is everywhere! Nature is the sole God of the Universe, Nature is the sole creator of everything that exists. When humans procreate, that’s Nature at work. When children are born, that’s Nature at work. When children learn to speak and read and write, that’s Nature at work. When adult humans develop technology, that’s Nature at work. When humans build houses, that’s Nature at work. When humans create rockets and go into outer space, that’s Nature at work. There is no such thing as “unnatural”, because to believe in anything “unnatural” would imply a belief in the “supernatural”. There is no “supernature” for the pantheist, because Nature is All. There is no “above” or “beyond” the realm of Nature.

Rather than “caring for Nature” I would suggest “oneness with Nature”. I came across this helpful quote from the Metaphysics Research Lab, CSLI, Stanford University:

“A pantheistic ecological ethic will not be anthropocentric. This rules out the notion of man as a “steward of nature,” whether his own or God’s, who is responsible for nature. It also rules out utilitarian, contractarian, and Kantian approaches as providing an ultimate basis since they are anthropocentric. It does not, however, rule out contractarian etc. principles as useful guides to making and justifying environmental decisions. Applying anthropocentrically conceived principles to environmental issues would suffice in many cases, but not all, to sound reasoning about the environment. (The practical problem environmentally speaking has been that almost no principles have been applied until recently. Selfish economic “forces,” i.e. people, have ruled without restraint.)”

The author

Annika Garratt

Annika is an artist/illustrator from Bournemouth UK. She produces colourful mixed media artwork on canvas as well as fluid ink illustrations, often based on folklore and mythological themes. Annika sells original paintings on canvas as well as fine art prints. If you have any questions about Annika’s work, feel free to contact her by email. You can also find Annika here.

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3 Comments on ““Caring for nature” by Annika Garratt

  1. The nature/human dichotomy is a relic of the industrial revolution and the romantic poets who opposed it. Think of Blake’s ‘dark satanic mills’ idea, or Rousseau’s noble savage.

    I agree that humans and by extension human creations are natural, but that does not mean they are necessarily good or beneficial to the wider ecosystem of which we are a part. When humans pollute and destroy habitats, this is ‘natural’ but not in the way most people use the word in colloquial speech. ‘Caring for nature’ at least implies that we have a moral duty to look after our world.

  2. This is all so true. We forget that nature is all around is….and we can always surround ourselves with nature. I’m reading “Nature Principal” by Richard Louv and he expresses it quite well, too. The thought that nature lives in the middle of a city is something we forget!!

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