“This modern love of the earth is ironic—it is a reaction against the destruction of nature, but is also a product of that destruction.”
In a counter-intuitive article, journalist and author J.B. MacKinnon describes modern nature as a nerfed version of its once dangerous self. In the twenty-first century, we venture into the wilderness to relax, find peace, and escape the stressors of everyday urban or suburban life. That serenity we find there, he argues, is a farce. We have no sense of fear in the wild, as we’ve killed off nearly all animals that would once pose threats to us. The author cites that only 20% of all land is inhabited by the large mammals that could be found there 500 years ago, and the number of remaining animals has dwindled.
“Scientists speak of an “ecology of fear” that once guided the movements and behavior of animals that shared land- and seascapes with toothy predators—an anxiety that humans once shared. In much of what’s left of the wild, that dread no longer applies even to deer or rabbits, let alone us. The sheer abundance and variety of the living world, its endless chaos of killing and starving and rutting and suffering, its routine horrors of mass death and infanticide and parasites and drought have faded from sight and mind. We have rendered nature an easy god to worship.”
Reading his piece shed some light on current happenings in Western Australia. The fight to protect humans against predators has moved from land to sea. Recent rulings have allowed shark culls — mass killings of shark species deemed threatening to people. Yet despite the hundreds of millions of beach-goers, there are less than five shark related fatalities ever year, globally.
Shark attacks are rare. I’m not arguing that we live in a constant state of fear at the beach. Instead, we should approach anything we do in a natural environment with an air of caution and respect for the ecosystem’s inhabitants.
At certain beaches where shark attacks are more prevalent, maybe instead of removing sharks from the water, we should consider taking ourselves out of the equation. Give some coasts back to nature.
Esteemed oceanographer Sylvia Earle writes, “Theodore Roosevelt was among those who led a movement to protect natural areas, watersheds, landscapes and places of cultural and historic interest as National Parks — a concept that Ken Burns called ‘America’s best idea.’ Other nations followed suit, nearly all adopting the concept, and protected areas now encompass about 14 percent of the planet’s total land area. At present, less than 2 percent of the ocean is protected” [emphasis my own]
As just one of the many millions of animal species sharing this planet, we need to find ways to cohabitate, rather than exterminate.
Industrial fishing and off-shore drilling are wreaking havoc on the planet’s oceans, arguably its most important asset. Let’s not add shark culling to that list. When swimming or surfing, we should treat the ocean with a large dose of respect, and a hint of fear. That’s the way nature intended.