Nature’s Value

We are, and always have been, entirely dependent on Nature.

Make no mistake. Everything we have created; every artificial field blooming with wheat, every shiny new car, all the music that has ever been made – everything – boils down to one, unifying source: the Natural world.

Buzzard (Buteo buteo).

Buzzard (Buteo buteo).

Think about our total reliance on oil. It might seem that the modern civilisations we’ve built have taken us leaps and bounds away from ancient man – scrabbling about for firewood to keep his family warm – but it’s an illusion.

All of things that oil gives us: the wonder materials, the agricultural chemicals that are the basis for our entire food supply, the all important energy – all of it comes from the substance we call ‘oil’.

This famous ‘stuff’, which we refine and use to prop up our lives as we know them, is the biological remains of the entire history of life on Earth. Ancient man may have collected deadwood from his territory; we extract long-dead life from below the ground.

So, instead of sitting round a million lonely campfires, we rely on the flames of vast furnaces to provide us with comfort and warmth from a distance.

Male Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo)

Male Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo)

So how does this relate to, and how do you explain, the value of a single species of frog, hidden deep in some foreign jungle? Or a titanic cloud of microscopic plankton roaming through the Ocean?

Closer to home, why ever give even a seconds thought to wonder why a Blackbird’s song has anything at all to do with your life?

The answer, or a part of the answer, is this: in the same way that human societies require the co-operation of millions, even billions, of individuals to function and flourish; the small cogs in the complex mechanics of the Natural world have provided us with the resources to exist as we do – and to be happy doing so.

Those huge plumes of plankton, spreading like flames through the sea, are the basis (the fuel!) for an entire ecosystem that provides us with a wealth of food to survive on.

That strange and unique frog might only exist in the most exotic and unexplored rainforests – pointing us in the direction of new areas to explore. If these places are left as they are (frog, trees, insects and all), and as the plant life of Earth always has, there will be new medicines and new food crops for us to discover – making our lives even better.

Mating Large White butterflies (Pieris brassicae)

Mating Large White butterflies (Pieris brassicae)

But what about the Blackbird? He’s no symbol of a varied and unexplored environment. He’s not the gatekeeper to food supplies or new and undiscovered medicines.

So why be bothered?

Well, if you imagine a country sterilised of its wildlife by uncompromising agriculture and thoughtless development; forgotten by its people, then the theatre we would have built would have no actors and no music.

We only appreciate silence because it is a rare thing that breaks up the noise that goes on all around us. In that silence, and in our nostalgic, British way, we would suddenly remember the simple Blackbird, and how he used to sing from a spindly T.V aerial along a cheek-by-jowl terraced street – giving the days a bit more colour; a reason to smile for no other reason than because it was ‘nice’ to be there, at that time, hearing that little bird’s song.

There is no measure for the value of happiness, but I know what it means to me.

From the Lizard, Cornwall.

From the Lizard, Cornwall.

A few days ago I saw a documentary, showing an elderly man on a hospital bed. His face was plugged by an oxygen mask and his arms were connected to a mess of tubes and wires. A small machine pumped air in and out of his weakened lungs.

Watching that, it was easy to see the frailty of being Human.

But we are all, always, connected to a global system that keeps us alive in almost exactly the same way as the contraptions that were maintaining the old man’s life. Magically, we don’t need any wires or masks to stay alive – it is all provided for us, for free.

The frog, the plankton, and even the Blackbird are all fine strands in a web of life that has given us the gift of existence.

It would be foolish and idealistic to say that all Nature everywhere should be protected forever. In pursuit of a world that supports all of its Human population, there will always be a cost to the environment.

But maybe, if we realise just how dependent on Nature we are, we can take care in our actions. It is possible (I have to believe it is) that we can preserve some of the world’s incredible Nature – for our own benefit and for all Humankind to come; because the Natural world is both our Mother and our home.

J.J. Lillis


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