Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.
So I just ran across the new media campaign by Conservation International, called Nature is Speaking. I have to say, it is very slick, and a nice change of pace from the usual fluffy koalas, arctic polar bears and the like that most of the big green NGOs inevitably use in their ad campaigns to tug on human heart-strings and call for change. CI takes a refreshingly different approach in their new campaign. Their “Humanifesto” starts with this sentence: “Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.” It then continues:
Human beings are part of nature.
Nature is not dependent on human beings to exist.
Human beings, on the other hand, are totally
dependent on nature to exist.
The growing number of people on the planet
and how we live here is going to determine the future of nature.
And the future of us.
Nature will go on, no matter what.
It will evolve.
The question is, will it be with us or without us?
In my mind, this is a refreshing change of perspective for several reasons:
- It doesn’t trade in the tired old logic of human exceptionalism
- It actively projects a voice of the Earth from the imagined Earth perspective
- It rejects the hard constructivist argument that “nature” is just a human social construct
- Like it or not, it uses the mass appeal of celebrities and pop culture, which is likely to reach a wider audience
- It is visually stunning, and thus memorable
Too often the environmental movement tries to play to human sympathies, in my opinion, which is part of why we are in the trouble we are in. It also speaks to a much longer history of distortions and suppression of animist and Earth-centered spiritual worldviews which do believe the Earth and all its inhabitants have spirits and voices, even if most ordinary people have forgotten how to hear them. And as Bruno Latour jokingly remarked at the end of one of his 2013 Gifford Lectures on Gaia and the Anthropocene:
Have we finally drawn the face of Gaia? No, obviously not. At least, I hope I have said enough to convince you that finding the ‘place of Man in Nature’ — to use an old expression — is not at all the same thing as to narrate the geostory of the planet. By bringing into the foreground everything that used to remain in the background, we don’t expect to live at last in ‘harmony with nature.’ There is no harmony in this contingent cascade of unforeseen events and there is no nature either — at least not in this sublunary realm of ours. But to learn how to situate human action into this geostory is not — such is the crucial lesson — to ‘naturalise’ humans either. No unity, no universality, no indisputability, no indefeasibility is to be invoked when humans are thrown in the turmoil of geostory. You could say, of course, that this rendering is much too anthropomorphic. I hope it is and fortunately so, but not in the old sense of imputing human values to an inert world of mute objects, but, on the contrary in the sense of giving humans — yes morphing them into —a more realistic shape. Anyway, what a strange thing it would be to complain about the pitfalls of anthropomorphism at the time of the anthropocene!
The quote might not make sense to those unfamiliar with Latour or his work on Gaia and the Anthropocene, but the point he is trying to make here is that when we start to see the Earth itself, and all the various forces interacting on the planet–rich people, poor people, whales, CO2, oceans, worms, sulfur, tectonic plates–then suddenly this new “geostory” as he calls it complicates our world in immense ways. We can no longer simply talk about “finding the ‘place of Man in Nature’” as he argues, because what we understood as nature, in the classical sense as “an inert world of mute objects” is now patently false, both from a theological as well as a scientific perspective.
With that idea in mind, this Nature is Speaking campaign perfectly illustrates this emerging idea Latour is trying to articulate. It also fits into a larger and growing movement which I have worked to document and write about, involving ideas like the global movement for the Rights of Nature and the Earth Charter, and other efforts to completely rethink how the modern world understands and relates to the “environment” and everything within it.
There are a great series of posters and videos that they have made, which you can check out on the campaign website, Nature is Speaking. I’m also embedding the YouTube playlist below for the lazy reader ;-}
By far, my favorite is Mother Nature, voiced by Julia Roberts, especially these eerie lines: “I have fed species greater than you, and I have starved species greater than you. My oceans. My soil. My flowing streams. My forests. They all can take you, or leave you.”
Until next time…I am prepared to evolve…are you?