The Paradox of Loving Nature

Jordan is the host of The Peaceful Way Podcast, in which he explores the concepts, ideas, and strategies behind making a more peaceful and nonviolent world.

I have found there are few things more therapeutic than spending time in the great outdoors. In my own backyard sits the picturesque Canadian Rockies. I sit but a stones throw away from what I have deemed to be “God’s Country”, the southwestern foothills of Alberta nestled against the mountains. Aside from the near fictional landscape there are indeed a plethora of ways to enjoy the vivacious beauty that nature has to offer. Be it hiking, biking, camping, rock climbing, hunting, fishing, road tripping, skiing or bird watching (just to name a few), there appears to be no end of ways in which one could enjoy the countryside. It has a way of engaging all of the senses through magnanimous sights, varied aromas, the taste of berries and wild game, the plush touch of the mossy earth, and a deluge of sounds from bird harmonies to thundering waterfalls. The unaltered wild is indeed a wonderful place that can teach us important lessons about the world around us, ourselves, and even reality itself. It can induce awe inspiring transcendence, perhaps even religious experiences. It is a place to build community and deep connections without the distraction of electronics, media, and the every day hustle and bustle.

For me, the outdoors has been a reprieve from the chaos that is modern society. In it, I can meditate deeply and focus myself on what really matters in life. I find a richness in nature that is difficult to articulate yet impossible to duplicate in other settings. The time I spent outside has been etched into my memory, even among the hundreds of days spent under the open sky I can recall nearly all of them, and I can recall the way it made me feel. There is a myriad of scientific studies showing the benefits of spending time in the outdoors by improving our mental health, lowering anxiety and cortisol as well as physical exercise to combat a sedentary lifestyle. In an era where the need to be outside diminishes every passing year, it is now that we must make our intentions to purposefully and mindfully resist resigning to the life of a recluse lest we lose touch with what really makes us human. It would appear there is almost no downside to immersing ourselves evermore into nature by surrendering to its majesty.

But appearances can be deceiving.

The truth is, nature wants to kill you. The very fact that one can even “enjoy” the outdoors is a human invention, plain and simple. Because of modern technology in general, and fossil fuels in particular, we become better and better at braving the elements every year that passes. It would behoove one to dismiss the brutality and barbarism of the untamed earth save our life preserving advancements. For hundreds of thousands of years, humanity struggled against carnivorous predators, it was eat, or be eaten. We were wiped out by plague after plague. Food was so scarce that you would spend a lifetime virtually starving, thats if you didn’t drink out of a contaminated body of water and die from dysentery first. Childbirth mortality was commonplace, as was death due to an infection from a simple scratch or scrape. If you injured yourself trying to hunt or forage for precious calories, you would likely be incapacitated and left to die with no time to heal and no modern medicine for corrective surgery. If you lived close to the equator you would be killed from the heat, if you lived far away from the equator you would be killed from the cold. If you lived near the ocean, your entire life and community would be easily wiped away from hurricanes or earthquakes. If you lived near the mountains, there was no protection from mudslides or avalanches and no levies to stop flooding in the plains from glacial melt. In the prairies there was no early warning systems or underground cellars to shield you from tornadoes or golf ball size hail. In the woods, seeing smoke meant it was already too late to escape a raging wild fire. Want to domesticate animals to make your life a little easier? Good luck with the wolves, coyotes, hyenas, snakes, and birds of prey picking them off as easy meals. In the early years of agriculture, an entire season of growing, which often meant life or death, was at the mercy of locust swarms, stampeding elephants or bison, pests and birds. The outdoor lifestyle is an enthralling mistress but a terrible wife.

Nature is cruel and merciless. However, it’s not that it hates you, it’s that it does not care about you. It does not give a damn if it offers you it’s life giving bounty or gives you a slow and gruesome death. Keeping this in mind helps to keep us from fetishizing nature and to truly benefit from all that it has to offer, as we will find it difficult to appreciate its risks when wearing rose coloured glasses. Furthermore, it is for these reasons that humanity should further dominate nature, control it, and design it in such a way as it maximally benefits us. This may not be in vogue with modern environmentalism and other such political constructs which seek to lie about the natural worlds benevolence. As a species we are at constant risk of total catastrophe were it not for life saving interventions into nature. Be it an asteroid, super-volcano, or even our sun eventually going supernova, we face inevitable annihilation if you view on a long enough time scale and barring mans intervention.

Though I would certainly never advocate for wanton and needless destruction of the environment, humans must remain sober about about how dangerous our habitat is to us if it remains untamed. All our conservation efforts and environmental protections is for our well being and prosperity, not the other way around.

So love nature, but from a distance, so to speak.