It is a contradiction that is steeped in outdated worldviews, in convenient denial, through elaborate justifications that allow an elite minority to trample on and pave the way for abuse and destruction, all by appearing as “lovers” of nature.
In the West, many factors have contributed to this status quo. Obviously, the rise of capitalism, but also, historically, the belief of the Enlightenment to exploit nature for the good of humanity and the historical Judeo-Christian rationalization of creating domination over nature according to certain religious thoughts (but not all): “Go forward and multiply”. ”; “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you.”
Collectively, this cultivated the need to dominate the wilderness for a sense of conquest, or the desire to escape and seek refuge away from society.
With all the evidence of human transgression of natural boundaries (e.g. the nine planetary boundaries), it is time for an international effort to foster new levels of self-awareness surrounding the relationship we share with nature, especially if we are to preserve ecosystem integrity and not fall into neocolonial trappings – even those that arise from a seemingly positive place, such as seeking to enjoy the mountains and nature.
A nature and wilderness retreat is now overdue. Cultures around the world have had spiritual or sacred relationships with mountains and wilderness for thousands of years.
First Nations in North America are renowned for such relationships, having historically practiced a communal approach to land ownership that was in stark contrast to the capitalist model of private land ownership of European colonialists.
In northern India and Tibet, Mount Kailash – near the source of the Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra and Karnali rivers – is sacred to four religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Bon) as as the spiritual center of the world, and attempting to scale it is therefore forbidden, an edict that stems from a place of deep reverence.
However, the value placed on mountains by communities is not always respected by those in wealthier societies. An important point of origin lies in the colonial conquest and the establishment of communities of settlers, who by definition were intruders and had no respect for the local traditions and beliefs of the indigenous communities.
There are two poignant examples: Uluru and Sagarmāthā/Chomolungma (renamed Ayers Rock and Mount Everest respectively).
Uluru in central Australia is sacred to the Anangu, the First Nations people of the region. They don’t climb the monolith. Yet since the arrival of white settlers, tourists (including the late Queen of England and the current King) have made it to the top – despite pleas to stop them. Fortunately, climbing was eventually banned – but not until 2019.
Moving towards the Sino-Nepal border, Sagarmāthā/Chomolungma (meaning “sky goddess” in Nepali or “world mother goddess” in Tibetan), is sacred to many surrounding cultures.
Yet many, especially from the west, feel entitled to seek to “admire” – or even “conquer” – this mountain using their capital, amassed in nations that have systematized the process of exploiting the nature, to buy trips, equipment and guides.
The Sherpa bear the burden of much of this risk by repairing ladders, transporting oxygen tanks and setting up camps with food and drink. There was even a Sherpa strike in 2014 due to unreasonable demands from foreign climbers who relied on them.
In addition to being culturally disrespectful, attempting to force human presence into mountains and other places of natural beauty will inevitably lead to environmental impact: in 2019, the Nepalese government cleaned up 11 tons of garbage from Sagarmāthā.
The climbing route becomes clogged in certain climbing seasons and as a result tragedies occur, but these are turned into stories of heroic human efforts to be emulated, while leaving out the local people who made all possible – often repeatedly taking lives at risk. risks simply to earn a living – and the negative impact these misadventures have on local traditions and customs.
Besides the cultural importance of the mountain, respect for orographic landscapes comes from a practical position because of the often hostile environment they present.
Yet appreciation of this aspect of man’s relationship with nature is increasingly absent. For example, there are increasing numbers of people in modernized countries who want to “return to nature” as a way to escape the challenges of modernity, but they fail to recognize that for most of human existence, nature was not simply a place where peace and quiet existed by default.
Rather, it is only through human excursion and intervention that environments can be maintained and fabricated for our habitation and enjoyment.
Another example is the vulgar safaris in Africa where hordes of supposed nature lovers want to get close to lions hunting and eating other animals, film these encounters from the comfort of their four wheel drives and feel they have connected to nature by having now known the cruelty of the animal world.
This disconnect is fundamental to how advanced societies perceive the modern relationship with the environment: nature must be transformed into tangible capital or intangible experiences that enhance our lives.
In many cases, people may simply have bragging rights. The intrinsic value of nature has been subsumed by its instrumental value.
So there is an inevitable irony that stems from the tendency to use now commonplace terms in the field of sustainability, such as “nature-based solutions”, “biomimicry” and “green finance”.
In reality, we have succumbed to oversimplification and selectively use aspects of Nature that create value for us, most often to mask or directly enable overconsumption and increased exploitation of Nature, while actively ignoring the lessons of dynamic balance, carrying capacity and symbiosis that characterize so many ecosystems.
Even the language we use shows how some cultures have developed a transactional relationship with nature. For example, in the English language, the name “environment” has its etymological roots in the old French environer, which means “to surround or enclose”.
In this definition, humans are observers placed in an imaginary center, while Nature is something around them: separate, foreign and observed.
This is a profound distinction, and – to return to Australia – which did not exist historically in First Nations languages: there was no concept of environment or nature, because their culture did not separate (and still does not, in many cases) separate humans from plants, animals and geomorphology.
In the Philippines, the Kankanaey communities of the Cordillera mountain range have a specific word – inayan – which refers to “unethical acts”, including those perpetrated against the environment. Through inayan, the protection of communal forests occurs and the use of natural resources occurs at a sustainable rate.
In southern Belize, the Q’eqchi Maya refer to themselves as Ral Ch’och’, as people who depend on and care for the Earth.
There are many other examples of different understandings of nature embedded in language, but their significance is increasingly at odds with the workings of modern economy and society.
As we become increasingly aware that our modern relationship with nature is – ironically – not the natural order of things, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that further facilitating the enjoyment of nature will remain sustainable with more fanciful discussions of the benign nature of ecotourism. For example.
Or that he will convince a majority of admirers to decouple from the systems that allow our unfettered destruction of the environment and other cultures and traditions. Instead, it’s time to orchestrate a planned wilderness retreat.
This must primarily occur at a systemic level: the way our economies and corporate structures are designed to convert the natural resource base into economic capital through a linear pattern of consumption.
This is the only way to avoid the catastrophic collapse of civilization through existential risks such as climate breakdown, biodiversity loss and the disappearance of indigenous knowledge about nature conservation. However, this systemic change cannot occur without accompanying changes in mentality in particularly wealthy societies. It means you and me.
We must gain the self-awareness to recognize this sense of freedom and thrill by diving to swim with whales, taking expensive trips to Antarctica to witness the melting of the ice cap, or hiking in the Amazon to observe indigenous communities.
Such examples are all part of a legitimate mindset that stems from and contributes to the broader disregard we have for the natural environment.
This is not an easy pill for many to swallow, as it requires sacrificing what we consider a right and entitlement when it comes to enjoyable and rewarding aspects of our privileged lifestyles. But not everyone can or should seek awe of nature in this way.
A study in Poland has linked mountain hiking to the eutrophication of alpine lakes, while other studies have demonstrated how scuba diving has damaged Thailand’s coral reef systems and marine environment. from Mexico. It is telling that even these seemingly remote places are degraded by people seeking the thrill of going where few can or go.
Admire the wilderness from afar. And if you are desperate to marvel at nature, do so by finding value in the practice of respecting aspects of nature in your immediate vicinity. Help regenerate it, minimizing your own impact on it, and start advocating for systemic change in the “fear industry”.
Chandran Nair is the founder and CEO of the Global Institute For Tomorrow and a member of the executive committee of the Club of Rome. He is the author of Dismantling Global White Privilege: Equity for a Post-Western World and The Sustainable State: The Future of Government, Economy and Society.
This article first appeared in the latest issue of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine that explores Kinship. Learn more.