nature-absract1There is so much talk about the “environment” these days it would be easy to think that we are all turning green. But despite all the talk, we remain at a great distance from the more-than-human world; we are terribly alienated from “nature”, (as well as from our own natures).

Freya Mathews in her book Reinhabiting Reality says that for most environmental organizations “the environment lies elsewhere; it is not the great rolling, rippling back of the world-serpent, on which one stands, right here and now. The environment is all ideality; it is a scenario in the minds of environmentalists, a hope-for end point or a lost beginning, but not reality”.

I suggest that the modern environmental movement is partly to blame for our alienation from nature. With its dispassionate and often mechanistic language (natural resource management, environmental services, conservation auctions etc), and its voice being largely from a human, urban, economic and political perspective, it has created the “environment” as an abstraction, as a technical problem to be solved.

It seems to me to be a marked difference between the implications of being in or with “nature” and being in the “environment”. Most people have little direct experience of “nature”, of wild places, of non-domesticated animals. We watch our nature programs, read books, (and dare I say, read and write on computers), get green publications, but rarely do we actively participate with nature. Professionals now mediate most of our knowledge of nature.

Rather that using reason and objectivity to understand the world around us (as if we could ever understand the world), we need to establish relationships of care, connection and compassion for non-human others.

To really understand nature, (or if you like the “environment”), we must be in the place we find ourselves, whether in our busy cities or in “pristine” nature. I suggest if you want to understand nature, sit quietly under a tree for ½ an hour.

In spite of the deterioration of the global ecological context, in spite of the worsening social conditions under which most humanity live, in spite of the global financial crisis, we seem appallingly immobilised. We just don’t seem to get this simple fact: our lives are intertwined, deeply embedded and jointly at stake with “nature”.

We need to love the places in which we live. We need to participate in the rich, unfathomable mystery called nature.