A field biologist thinks we like the idea of nature more than we like nature itself

Frogs are set to go extinct within the next 50 years.

Frogs are set to go extinct within the next 50 years.

Virginia Moran is a freelance writer and biologist living in Grass Valley

“Can you guys watch the plant there—” I asked. But it didn’t register with a group of passing mountain bikers who smashed into a Shelton’s violet as my wildflower class looked on.

“Crap,” one of the women on my walk said. “Why did they do that?”

A recent New York Times article implores people to get outside and “enjoy nature,” but all I see is people using “nature” as one giant gym. They could care less what’s in it. We have effectively “zooified” nature while dressed in the latest “outdoor” gear from REI. (The fact that this gear devours tons of natural resources seems lost on the well-dressed nature lover).

As a field biologist for more than 20 years, I’m left with only one conclusion: As a species, we like the idea of nature but we don’t really care about nature itself.

Somewhere near you is a curtain, shirt, painting, couch with some kind of nature motif on it. But ask someone to name five native trees where they live and they cannot do it. Huge industries exist to kill bugs, wildlife, clear “brush,” grow lawns and spray chemicals. These industries cannot thrive unless certain components of nature are demonized.

We love frogs on our shirts but don’t really care that they are not in our creeks anymore. (Amphibians are predicted to go globally extinct within the next 30-50 years). We tend to care the least about the things we know the least about. Could this be why we are destroying nature at a rapid pace? For every link of the chain we kick off, we move closer to ourselves. Cancer is the best example of this.

We have always killed ourselves off, but now we may take everything else with us.

Carl Sagan bemoaned that the tragedy of the human species is it evolved the capacity for foresight but refuses to use it. Why? The answer to this question is the human life span. We view everything we do through the brief window of time we are granted. The task of taking care of even ourselves in this complex world is tough enough, let alone worrying about future generations.

Coupled with our short life spans is the primitive (or reptilian) brain which we have not evolved out of. Is the human brain, at this stage in its evolution, capable of mostly greed and self-preservation? Some say no.

Can we overcome our short life spans and primitive brains to really think about future generations?

What if we are the “future generations” they were worried about 40 years ago when the warnings started? We are the generation that may be around for the predicted planetary collapse.

Maybe there are no more “future generations” we can shove this stuff onto. There is no “them.”

“Them” is us.

And just idea of nature won’t save the planet. We will continue to need the real thing.