Wilderness Destruction and The Seven Deadly Sins

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, February 16, 2015

I’m a bookworm who spends most of my day indoors reading and watching documentaries on TV. My only exposure to nature is looking out the window behind my monitor to watch the squirrels and birds at play in my backyard, and my daily walk in the neighborhood. So why should I worry about the amount of wilderness left in the world?

My first response would be to say guilt. I feel bad that my species is hogging the Earth and killing off other species so fast that we’re causing the 6th great extinction event.

My second response would be a love of nature at a distance – mainly from nature documentaries. I love that the Earth is filled with biodiversity. If the planet was paved completely with urban sprawl, McDonalds, Best Buys and Exxon stations it would be quite dreary.

My third response, is fear for the future. Most people think of climate change as flooding cities and extreme weather. They seldom contemplate the acidification of the ocean which will destroy most aquatic life, or how climate change is killing off other species. Not only are we fucking up the world for ourselves, but we’re forcing a good percentage of life on Earth to go down the  evolutionary drain.

This Sunday’s New York Times reported “Leaving Only Footsteps? Thing Again” by Christopher Solomon. Solomon says 99 percent of the protected land in North America we’ve set aside for wilderness has various forms of recreation allowed in them that disrupt the wildlife. We’ve loving nature to death.

Even though I’m not a religious person, I like to think about The Seven Deadly Sins and judge humanity by that yardstick. Our treatment of the Earth as a resource for human consumption shows extreme examples of gluttony, greed, sloth and pride, and we can tie overpopulation to lust, war with wrath and consumerism with envy. Which makes a clean sweep of the all the cardinal sins. If seen from a distance, a giant superior being examining our world under a microscope, humanity would appear like a cancer eating the planet.

As individuals we think of ourselves as pretty good people, and rationalize that we’re only struggling to stay alive. We focus on our own little campfires failing to see we’re part of one giant forest fire burning down our own world.

Since I’m using religious metaphors, let’s go back to The Book of Genesis, and The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit they learned about sin, and acquired free will. I’ve always imagined the author of this story as understanding that humans once lived in nature, being one with the wildlife, and saw the change we underwent when we switch to agriculture and living in cities. This is when that author also said in Genesis 1:26

Then God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

If the author of Genesis was alive today and writing, I think he or she would write something much different. I think it’s pretty obvious that we never acquired the finer distinctions of our sins. The above passage might be true when the human population density was what it was three thousand years ago, but not today.

There is a new series on PBS called Earth: The New Wild which I can’t recommend too highly. The host, Dr. M. Sanjayan makes a case for how we should live with nature and not dominate. This is going to be very hard.

But if humans do have free will, we have the power to decide how much wilderness belongs to all the other species on this planet, and how much is our fair share. We are the gods that decide the fate of all the other species on Earth. I’m not sure we’re doing it with free will or unconscious evil. Maybe some people have free will, but not the majority. We still live by our animal instincts, and the seven deadly sins describes our major survival traits.

Many of my friends worry I’m depressed because I write about such depressing subjects. Many of my friends refuse to contemplate what I do because it makes them depressed. They ask why dwell on the inevitable. I see our problems as an intellectual challenge. Theoretically we’re smart enough to recognize our sins. And there is no forgiveness for destroying the world.

There’s a book title I’ve always loved, “What If Our World Is Their Heaven?” What if Earth is our Heaven and we’re turning it into our Hell?

I find it fascinating why we don’t see our own self-destruction and the evil we do to the other species of Earth. I often feel like I sitting in a deckchair on the Titanic and I see the iceberg. I’m not the only one, but most people refuse to look. The tragic thing is the captain and the crew do see it, but refuse to change course.


My Life as a Turkey (Nature–PBS)

My Life as a Turkey premiered on Nature this week.  This is one TV show you won’t want to miss – it’s still being repeated on some PBS stations, and you can watch it online here.   Here’s the preview.

Don’t be fooled by the subject  – I know most people think of turkeys as dumb ugly birds – but this is a brilliant exploration of mind and nature.  The film is based on the 1995 book Illumination in the Flatwoods by Joe Hutto.  Hutto was given 16 wild turkey eggs which he incubated hoping that the hatchlings would imprint on his face – and they did.  He quickly learned that being a mother to the hatchlings required a full time commitment and spend all his waking time with them for six months, and followed them for over a year.

If you’ve seen the wonderful film Fly Away Home, then you’ll know about imprinting.  And even though this story is about how amazing wild turkeys are, and the power of imprinting, what really stands out is what Hutto learns about the conscious mind and living in nature.

Hutto got to integrate himself into the natural world like few people do.  He got to think like a turkey and realized these wild creatures were a whole lot more aware of things than we believed.

We think of humans as the only animal with self-aware consciousness – but new studies are suggesting that consciousness is a spectrum of awareness and even multiple kinds of awareness.  Some people suggest that animals have phenomenal consciousness – awareness of the world around them, and this is what Hutto descends into when he’s with his wild turkeys.  Through long intense observations he learns what the turkeys see in their world, and even learns their language.

This film shows Hutto becoming a Zen like guru of awareness.  Hutto  talks about how most people live in the future, always thinking about what will happen.  The turkeys live in an absolute now.  Like Ram Das teaches – Be Here Now.

But I don’t think I need to say any more.  Watch this show.  You can do it now from here.  I kid you not, you will be amazed.  No words I can say will prepare you.

JWH – 11/20/11