In the last few years, I have become unhappy with the environmental movement. I was raised to love the Earth, to cherish wildness, and to recycle and conserve energy. As a Pagan, I believe in the sacredness of the immanent world, I don’t just believe, I feel it. It resonates in my bones, throbs in my blood. But as I have listened to the rhetoric of the environmental movement, they don’t seem to be bringing anything to the table but guilt. I loath the idea that somehow humans are by ‘nature’ bad. From a spiritual standpoint, this makes no sense to me.
In Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict Between Global Conservation and Native Peoples, Mark Dowie writes about how in this country we have the concept of fortress conservation. This is the idea that if Nature is better off with no human contact. Americans came up with the idea, and we exported it to other countries. This is a concept enshrined in mystic spirituality. Humans become supplicants at the feet of the Goddess Nature, constantly, and ineffectively striving to worthy so as to feel her embrace. When fundamentalist Christians talk about worshiping nature, this is what they mean.
My sense of wrongness about this attitude came to a head when, after reading Dowie’s book I learned that this is the attitude that gets indigenous peoples tossed out of areas that then become designated as national parks. The magnificent cathedrals of the environmental movement, the national parks in the United States in other countries, were inhabited by native peoples. As surely as Christianity took over the sacred places of Europe, the environmental movement has taken over these places. These places were not some pristine wilderness but a home, a larder, and yes, sacred. Sacred not because they were beautiful, but because of the relationship the indigenous people’s had with the land. For a relationship to exist, both sides must work hard to maintain the balance. The land did not just give up her bounty. The people who lived there gave back. They burned out brush from under the trees which returned nutrients to the soil, they thinned roots, they hunted, which maintained the health of the herds, and they farmed. These actions increased the health and beauty of the land, and the people ate good food and thrived. It was not with abasement with which they approached natural world, but with the humility of relationship, the idea that nothing should be taken for granted.
That Nature is somehow better off without human contact is not only erroneous, it is dangerous. There are other religions that focus on guilt. Paganism – influenced as is by the environmental movement – does not need to be one of them. I believe we are part of Nature, not separate from her. We are not some anomaly. If I chose to believe we are a failed species, then the logical conclusion is that we should just get out of the way and kill ourselves now. I am human, and I embrace that. We have failings, but only because we expect more of ourselves. We are different from all other species on the Earth, but still we evolved here, and here we will stay until we understand ourselves, and how our planet nourishes us if we cooperate with her and each other.