woensdag, juli 7, 2021

Is it time to decolonize nature?

Earlier this year, Hennie de Pous - de Jonge, advisor to IofC The Netherlands, wrote a touching story about a farmer and his worms. She concludes her story by calling for a ‘Save the Redworm’ initiative. Her reaction might seem odd as worms are unsung and obscure creatures. Yet they are necessary for a healthy, flourishing earth for they play an important role in modifying the physical structure of soils. Charles Darwin knew this too: in his 1881 study of worms, he described the worm as ‘a man, born blind and deaf’ and marvelled at its surprising intelligence and complex behaviour. In this age of increased environmental consciousness, Darwin’s book proves more insightful than ever. 

The observed intelligence of unloved animals continues to surprise us. Our anthropocentric view of nature is to blame here: we only value those who resemble us. Dogs are loved and protected because they are loyal, intelligent, and playful. These are positive qualities that we also attribute to people. Chickens, however, pay dearly for their perceived stupidity: billions of them are slaughtered each year for human consumption. This hierarchical relationship between human beings and nature, a rhetorical tool that justifies the gross mistreatment of animals and people, exists only in and through the human imagination.

We should put this colonial, oppressive way of thinking under suspicion. After all, structural human rights violations are too often justified with the argument that some people are simply ‘too stupid,’ ‘too simple,’ and ‘too different.’ This is nonsense of course, but let us assume for the sake of the argument that some are indeed weaker and less intelligent than others. Would it really matter?

I would say that it does not. The right to happiness, the right to protection and the right to survival should be extended to all who seek happiness, protection, and survival. This includes nature, and all sentient beings that are part of it. We should view nature the same way we view ourselves: with identical wants, needs and rights. I believe that this is not only the most ethical approach to nature, but also the key to our survival.

We can learn a lot about our impending fate from the Covid-19 disaster. The virus has been associated with illegal wildlife trade, deforestation, overpopulation, air pollution and other ecological problems. According to international representatives from the United Nations and several international environmental organisations, the pandemic is the result of ecological devastation. Through the coronavirus, our overtaxed planet is sending out an urgent message: we cannot go on like this.

I do not have any quick fixes to the pandemic, but I am afraid that we will return to our old, destructive ways after Covid-19. It is then only a matter of time before a new pandemic presents itself. We must therefore not only fight the virus, but also change our entire conception of nature. The belief that nature exists to serve human beings is a (self)destructive mindset. Instead, we should protect nature because it is inherently valuable, without privileging human beings based on perceived intelligence or strength. Nor should we destroy the habitat of non-human individuals, for they have a right to exist just as much as we do. We can prevent a future ecological crisis and/or pandemic by replacing our oppressive and anthropocentric attitude towards nature with a holistic and inclusive view of people, animals, and plants. Decolonise the mind—and nature!

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