Dear Dr K,
Will humans ever be able to exist in complete harmony with nature?
Op T Myst
Where do I begin answering your question? Could you have made it any harder? As far as I am aware, humans are not artificial beings constructed on an alien planet and then shipped to Earth with the express purpose of destroying it. The fundamental question that needs to be asked is, what is nature? Can you call a cricket stadium natural? What about a rainforest? And what if I bulldoze a bunch of buildings and plant several trees where they stand? We evolved out of what you call ‘nature’, and therefore all our behaviour, everything we do and create (or destroy) is part of the natural process. By this extension of reasoning, the cricket stadium is as natural as a rainforest. It certainly doesn’t seem that way, does it?
It seems that the only thing standing in the way of our living in harmony with nature is whether or not we believe that we do. We have, over the last few centuries, come to think of ourselves increasingly as beings who are somehow removed from nature, that we reside in nature, but are not really a part of it, having cocooned ourselves from it with all our science and technology. If you live in a city you may not even believe that nature is around you; if not a forest, if not a village, you need to at least be in a park to be surrounded by nature. And so someone might say, “I like to go to the mountains to be in harmony with nature.” If you can harmonise with a mountain, no one should be able to stop you from harmonising with a factory.
I suppose once we realise that we are not really individuals, although we like to think of ourselves that way, once we truly begin to accept the fact that we are not just tenants on the planet, but that we are a part of the environment and the environment is a part of us, we will have a more nuanced understanding of what ‘nature’ is. It is not something that needs rescuing, or something that needs us to live in harmony with it. If we are concerned for our own well-being, and not completely suicidal, we need to recognise that the planet has systems that have a way of balancing themselves out, and that if we are not able to maintain the balance of the planet with our efforts, the planet will do it for us, and that might involve wiping out a chunk of our population.
What we need to realise is that there is no longer any part of this world that has not been affected by human activity, there is no longer any wilderness that is truly untouched, directly or indirectly, by humans. We are very much a part of nature, very much “in harmony” with it, probably more so than any other species on the planet. The question we need to ask is, what kind of nature do we want it to be?