The Need to Restore the Human-Nature Bond

A garden of earthly delights or a ravaged garden?

Climate-talks are indeed growing in Europe, organic consumption has come into fashion in many countries, and a plethora of small businesses are popping up selling all sorts of compostable accessories (e.g. food containers or paper straws) or eco-friendly products (e.g. organic clothing). Despite this green turn in production and consumption, our societies are still primarily based upon a utilitarian relation of exploitation of natural resources. There is a broad lack of recognition of the value of natural resources and of their right of existence outside the logics of economic exploitation. In urban contexts, it’s easy to spot the indifference towards natural elements, and even the sense of disgust when people encounter a sporadic being: “What is this monstrous fruit fly doing in my kitchen? I’ll kill it immediately”. Western culture has become detached from the ecological substrate upon it is based and dependent on for its very existence. This came with a strong spiritual impoverishment, as humans lost contact with their very origins. The ecosystem is in crisis, subjugated to a relentless exploitation and depletion of its resources. And perhaps awakening is beginning, but it’s not really here yet. Most citizens still do not realise how disruptions in the ecosystem, such as biodiversity losses and temperature rise, will affect their future. It’s too abstract to envisage, too unstable to predict, and in the meantime, they are too busy with their lives, thereby rejecting any sense of responsibility, or even dismissing the possibility of an actual threat. What most people fail to realise is that really, it’s about us.

Broadening our sense of identification towards a larger concept of self

Ecopsychology is a field of study concerned with the restoration of the affective connection between humans and the natural world. The aim is to cure the sense of alienation from the environment by awakening feelings of connection and responsibility, and by establishing new ethics. Personal growth is at the core of an individual transformation able to instil a sense of responsibility, a profound commitment to take care of the earth, in the same way as we take care of ourselves. Personal growth means bringing the attention outside of the individual self, to get out of the restricted sphere of our lives, broadening our perception of the outer reality, of its richness, complexity and fragility. All human beings are endowed with the capacity to be in relation with a more ample sense of reality, which transcends the ego and extends the sense of identification beyond the self. Enlarging the field of individual perception allows to recuperate a sense of connection with a higher collective and global dimension, thereby becoming a conscious and more responsible citizen. Finally, by developing empathy for the environment, it becomes possible to understand that by damaging the earth’s ecosystem, we directly cause damage to ourselves. In practice, there is nothing new to be done: we just need to recover a forgotten awareness about the equilibrium of the earth, realising the connection between our every-day life and an ecosystem that we are bound to.

 I have heard people arguing that climate change has nothing inherently wrong. They argue that climate has been changing since millennia’s and that violent disruptions already occurred (their classic example is the glaciation), and that climate crises paved the way for the development of new species, which evolved and adapted to the new environmental circumstances. But what is different today, is that climate change is primarily man-made, as our species has been introducing gigantic amounts of toxic substances into the environment, generating severe imbalances. Take the acidification of the sea, the pollution of air and aquifers, or the entry of microplastics in the marine environment (and thereby into our food chain, with concerns about the carcinogenic substances microplastics carry). Indeed, we cannot debate upon the wrongness of the natural alterations that occur in the environment, what is wrong today is us, and the robbery from future generations that we are perpetrating.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights