Peter Marshall's Blog

To Conquer Nature

By Peter Marshall

This blog is about ‘Liberation Ecology’ and the ancient view  that humans should somehow ‘conquer nature’, as if that were ever possible.

I have recently heard the BBC radio advertising its coverage of the Winter Olympics by saying that the athletes would ‘conquer nature’. It is almost unbelievable that people should talk about nature in these terms. It was the whole theme of my book Nature’s Web, an exploration of ecological thinking, that we should cooperate with nature not conquer it. In my examination of Western philosophy and Christianity, I showed that the dominant view was that human beings, because of their so-called reason or soul, were somehow set apart from the rest of nature and that they should subdue it entirely for their own ends. The result of this way of thinking and acting has been an ecological crisis throughout the world, particularly as the major economies are still wedded to growth and wish to produce more consumer goods. On the other hand the wise among us understand that they do not lead to greater happiness but the further plundering of the planet.

Climate change means that in this part of the world we will inevitably experience more extreme weather. As the recent flooding in the British Isles has shown, water will break sea defences and cover the land with lakes. It is therefore absurd to think that we can still ‘conquer nature’, however hard we might try.

As any child who has tried to dam the flow of water on a beach or in the countryside appreciates nature will have its revenge. To understand the flow of water means that it is impossible in the long term to stop it. Nature will have its nemesis to arrogant humans who interfere too deeply with its course.

Indeed, we are all an integral strand in Nature’s Web and we have no God-given right to use the rest of nature to our own ends. If we ruin the environment we will destroy ourselves as we are inseparable from our environment. We should therefore be neither conquerors nor even stewards of nature but fellow voyagers in the grand odyssey of evolution. As I have argued in a later book, we should practice a form of Liberation Ecology and Ride the Wind.

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