This comic strip gave a me a jolt and really spelled out why exactly environmental degradation is such a bad thing. Up till now, my understanding of nature was that it had intrinsic value and intrinsic beauty and deserved humans’ respect – just ‘cuz. There was always a majesty and gravitas to the nature I grew up with: west coast wilderness of soaring, jagged, snow-peaked mountain ranges, unending swathes of towering forest, and thunderclaps where Pacific waves met the American landmass. I was taught to steward the land, to protect it and preserve it, because it was the right thing to do. Ethically. Morally.
I still feel this moral imperative very strongly. If the earth is my mother, then it is out of filial piety that I take care of her.
There are other motivations for responsible environmental stewardship. One comes from a development perspective: Humans depend on the environment, so we need to protect it to continue our own development. As Mother Gaia says to Human in the comic, “You’re not killing nature, you’re killing yourself.” Even if life on earth was destroyed – by a meteor or a nuclear war – the planet will eventually recover. It may take many millennia, but “it has survived worse things than you,” says Mother Gaia. It is us humans who won’t survive.
I side with the romantics and draw my spirituality and inspiration for life from nature. My soul is fed by nature. I don’t believe in a god, but the closest thing would be nature. It is an elite position to take, I suppose; it is a privilege to view nature as spiritual rather than functional. Of course, the two views can be combined – this can be observed in, for example, indigenous cultures. A purely functional approach is highly destructive – China is evidence of that. A purely spiritual approach, like mine, is, I believe, also unhealthy, as it leads to a holier-than-thou ‘counter development’ romanticisation of pre-industrial civilisation.