Throughout history, philosophers have construed the universe in many ways, and one of the oldest is to see it made up by pairs of opposites. For example, art and science, good and evil, matter and motion, structure and function, and living and nonliving all exemplify this particular way of looking at the cosmos.
In our minds, nature, too, possesses this same sort of dichotomy: we tend to see it as either beautiful, benign and peaceful or terrifying, destructive and fierce. This paradox is used to good effect in the three videos shown below.
Titled Sky, Flower and Home, these short films comprise my third journey with you into Conservation International’s Nature Talks Back video series. (See Part 1: Nature Finally Talks Back—and It Has Some Tough Words for Us and Part 2: Nature Finally Talks Back—Again.) And, it could be argued, these three, new features contain some of nature’s harshest words for us yet.
Sky: warm blanket and inhospitable covering
Simply put, the sky is everything that lies above the surface of the Earth, including the atmosphere and outer space. It is the thin, delicate band surrounding our planet that makes life on Earth possible. Sky can also mean the clouds, the heavens or even the celestial sphere.
Gases in the atmosphere—such as carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor—trap some of the heat from the sun’s rays, which would otherwise go back out into space. This keeps the Earth at a comfortable temperature, preventing it from getting too cold. You’ll hear the sky, portrayed by actor Joan Chen, say in the video below, “I am a warm, protective blanket, wrapped around everyone on Earth.”
But the sky isn’t all warm and cuddly. She’s the site of hurricanes, thunderstorms and tornadoes. And she reminds us that Earth’s atmosphere isn’t something we can take for granted. Without it, life as we know it wouldn’t exist. Not only does it contain the oxygen we need to breathe, but it also protects us from harmful ultraviolet solar radiation and creates the pressure without which liquid water couldn’t exist on our planet’s surface. As she says later in the film, “Without me, you’d fry.”
It’s sobering to realize that if you could drive a car straight up into the atmosphere, at about five miles of altitude there would be insufficient oxygen in the air to sustain human life. At 12 miles of altitude, your blood would boil—unless you were in a pressurized environment.
Flower: provider of sustenance and taker of life
Flowering plants gift us with colors and fragrances that are stimulating to the senses, food from almost every one of their parts and medicines. The abundance and diversity of Earth’s flowering plants has contributed to the abundance and diversity of many other species, including those that are edible for humans.
More than 80 percent of the world’s flowering plants require a pollinator in order to reproduce. Bees, beetles, butterflies, moths and flies are enticed by flowers’ fragrances, bright petals and strong-smelling nectar. The pollinators feed on the nectar and harvest the nutrient-rich pollen, thereby ensuring the availability of future feeding—by them and by us—by fertilizing the flowers. The fruit, leaves, roots, seeds and stems of these plants also provide food and shelter for the insect world.
Pollination is an essential ecological function. Without pollinators, the human race and all of Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems would not survive. If there were no flowers, there would be no beans, cantaloupes, peas, peppers, squashes, tomatoes or watermelons, among a lot of other vegetables. Fruit trees are also pollinated through flowers; so, without them, we would have no apples, oranges, pears and a wide variety of other fruits.
In her video, the flower says, “Life starts with me. You see, I feed people. Every fruit comes from me. Every potato, me. Every kernel of corn, me. Every grain of rice, me. And sometimes I feed their souls. I am their words when they have none. I say ‘I love you’ without a sound; ‘I’m sorry’ without a voice. I inspire the greatest of them: painters, poets, patternmakers. I’ve been a muse to them all. But in my experience, people underestimate the power of a pretty, little flower. Because their life does start with me, and it could end without me.”
At home, and at a crossroads
Humans aren’t separate from nature, we’re part of it. And right now, our planet’s nature is at a crossroads. The ecosystems that underpin our economies, well-being and survival are collapsing. Species are becoming extinct at unprecedented rates. Our climate is in crisis. And it’s all happening on our watch.
Our world, our home, says in her video: “I give you comfort. I shelter your family. See me for who I am. Home, sweet home. I am your refuge. I am the floor that supports you. The foundation that keeps you steady. The walls that give you shelter. The roof that protects you. I am your home. If you don’t take care of me, I cannot take care of you.”
There is another dichotomy in philosophical thought: rash boldness (audacity) and lazy conservatism.
In a landmark essay of Western philosophy titled What is Enlightenment?, influential German philosopher Immanuel Kant answered sapere aude, or “dare to know.” The Latin verb audere is the root of audacity. Audacity was thus indirectly canonized as a cardinal philosophical virtue.
But Kant wasn’t praising all and any boldness. The boldness to know is the courage to check the truth for yourself and not trust received wisdom. This boldness is also a moral obligation. Not to dare to know is to abrogate responsibility, to leave decisions and judgments to others.
Boldness is not simply a matter of trying something different. It requires taking time to carefully examine how things are and having the courage to do them differently if you can see that they are not being done correctly or optimally.
We have what we need to turn things around for our home; we have science. But are we audacious and bold enough to use it?
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,