One of the perennial questions we ask ourselves is whether all of nature is there for us to use and then discard or whether mankind owes a debt to nature. Many humans do have an instinct to personalize the natural world in the form of Mother Nature and to see the planet as a complex living thing... the so-called Gaia outlook. Questions like this are usually raised when a man-made disaster, such as the current Gulf of Mexico oil catastrophe, occurs.
When we, and much of the world, were agrarians, we took better care of our natural surroundings. We needed the land and water for nourishment and the air for breath itself...and we still do. But we continue to pay a heavy price for a century and a half of industrialization, much of it pursued as if the land, water, and air were free goods that would have to somehow heal themselves or that we would leave to our children to clean up. The industries that poisoned the waterways, soil, and air were almost never around to pay for the damage.
As there are born liberals and born conservatives, I've come to believe that some of us have an instinct to protect nature and some do not. Barring some magical transformation of human nature, that will probably always be so. But, as mankind makes war on nature as we are now doing in the Gulf, little is heard from the "drill, baby, drill" crowd, so willing to take risks at nature's expense recently. And the president, himself recently converted to off-shore drilling, is now having second thoughts.
As, in a more perfect world, it would be civilized and mature to hold public discourse without the screams and finger-pointing of the day, so it would be helpful if to no one else but future generations and Nature herself to take into account the damage we so casually do in order to drive inefficient vehicles and burn lights in empty rooms.
For a time, as after Exxon Valdez, we will look with sorrow at the oil-coated birds and beaches and sympathize with the out-of-work fishermen. "How's that drilly, oily stuff workin' for ya' these days," no politician will cutely ask. But, not long thereafter, "drill, baby, drill" will return, and with it the scorn for those who think we all might owe Nature a little more respect.
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