Do People Belong in Nature?
Written by John Stonestreet, Kasey Leander, and Shane Morris |
Friday, April 7, 2023
In the world of ecology, getting closer to nature has us no closer to having an answer to the perennial question, where do humans belong in the natural world? How we answer that question depends on our assumptions about both ecology and anthropology.
Recently, scientists at the Israeli Weizmann Institute of Science calculated the total biomass of three different categories of living things: humans, domesticated mammals (such as cows and pigs), and wild mammals (such as whales, dolphins, and deer). Researchers estimated the combined weight of every single wild mammal to be about 60 million metric tonnes, the combined biomass of every human being at 390 million metric tonnes, and the combined biomass of the mammals we domesticate at a whopping 630 million metric tonnes. Surprisingly, researchers concluded, only 6% of the combined weight of mammals on Earth can be considered “wild.”
At the same time, we have never had more films available to us about unspoiled nature. Beginning with the BBC’s fantastic 2006 miniseries Planet Earth, an entire subgenre has emerged celebrating the pristine beauty of the natural world, utilizing high-grade cameras, aerial footage, and powerful cinematic scores. The results are incredible. In the words of one commentator, we are the first people in human history to get close enough to African lions “to see the taste buds on their tongue” while still tucked in our beds.
At the same time, in the world of ecology, getting closer to nature has us no closer to having an answer to the perennial question, where do humans belong in the natural world? How we answer that question depends on our assumptions about both ecology and anthropology.
As Weizmann Professor Ron Milo put it,
The more we’re exposed to nature’s full splendor, be it through films, museums or eco-tourism, the more we might be tempted to imagine that nature is an endless and inexhaustible resource. In reality, the weight of all remaining wild land mammals is less than 10 percent of humanity’s combined weight, which amounts to only about 6 lbs. of wild land mammal per person.
On one hand, documentaries like Planet Earth can motivate us to protect our planet’s beauty. That kind of majesty in detail often prompts a kind of worship, though it is often directed away from the One to whom it is due.