The coronavirus pandemic gives us an opportunity to reflect on our relationship with nature; and it is imperative we don’t waste the moment. By Jonathan and Angie Scott
t what point did we begin to believe that we could survive aside from nature, rather than as an integral part of the biosphere? Our ambition to conquer the wilderness and reign supreme has left the fate of the living world resting precariously in our hands. Yet without nature we would cease to exist.
Nature’s creativity is reflected in every living thing. For hundreds of thousands of years humankind has lived in and relied upon nature. It provided us with our needs, our ancestors finding shelter and sustenance in its caves, forests and savannahs. We were tied to the earth, an integral part of the landscape.
For the hunters of old there was a reverence for the land and a spiritual connection to wild animals and plants that was reflected in the powerful myths by which they lived. Animals were seen as emissaries of the gods. Killing was seen as a mystical act, transformed into something more spiritual, as witnessed by the convention of giving thanks before eating, bonding with the group while sharing food.
The price of ‘civilisation’ has been the loss of our deeply spiritual connection to nature. Twelve thousand years ago, the advent of agriculture allowed us to become more sedentary. The planting of crops and domestication of animals nourished our family and clan. With food production more assured, larger communities evolved: the towns, cities and nation states that now define so much of our culture. By two thousand years ago the global population had increased from a few hundred thousand hunter-gatherers to 300 million farmers and urbanites.
In the 18th Century the Industrial Revolution transformed the workplace, fuelled by the exploitation of coal and oil. It oversaw a boom in technology that gave birth to an economy built on machines, manpower and trade. The price was the plunder of the world’s natural resources, with little regard for the future of the planet and its wild inhabitants.
In today’s urbanised world — an age in which we are drowning in information — nature has come to mean something remote from everyday existence, a place that you drive through or visit occasionally (if at all), something to be taken for granted.
This is witnessed by the lack of contact that our young people have with nature. Just fifty years ago children roamed far from home; the outdoors was their playground, somewhere they could cultivate a lifelong interest in the living world. Today some children barely leave their bedrooms, so eager are they to stay ‘plugged in’ to a virtual world. The study of Natural History has, for many, been dismissed as a pastime, a luxury, an eccentricity or hobby practiced by twitchers and butterfly enthusiasts.
We need to wake up to a new reality; one attested to by science. Nature helps children and adults to understand who they are, to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to learn courage and perseverance. Being in nature is therapeutic for your immune system and mental health. And it’s free!
Meanwhile, with shutters tightly fastened and our lives consumed by a voracious appetite for economic growth and the accumulation of wealth, the planet’s wild and beautiful landscapes are under siege.
Oceans are drowning in plastic, the open savannahs are being fenced off into individual plots, mountains ripped open for their minerals, forests and jungles felled for timber, deserts desecrated for hidden treasures. The bonds holding nature dear to us have been ruptured. Plants and animals of every description – birds, reptiles, mammals, marine creatures – are being driven to extinction. The Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past forty years alone, due to our voracious appetite for food and land.
We are no longer constrained by the slow pace of biological evolution to chart our future. Our pathway is determined by technological innovations that have allowed us to dominate the planet like no other species has done before. No quiet and pristine corner of the Earth remains untouched by man; our ecological footprint is burnished deep into the ice and sand, mountain and ocean.
In believing that we are masters of our own destiny, capable of manipulating and engineering the environment to suit our own needs, we delude ourselves. Dazzled by our capabilities and ingenuity, we have been blind to the fact that there are unknown consequences to our actions that impact on the present and reach far into the future.
It is imperative that we respect and collaborate with nature, not needlessly lay waste to it as a commodity we own. To impoverish an irreplaceable asset is a failure of mankind. The sudden and profound damage wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic on human health and economies is a harrowing yet timely reminder of that fact — along with the melting ice caps and glaciers, raging bush fires, floods and droughts. Planet Earth belongs to all of life.
The setting for the first edition of our book Sacred Nature: Life’s Eternal Dance was savannah Africa. Our aim was to highlight the wonder and beauty of our Planet. It focused on East Africa’s fabled Mara-Serengeti, a vast wildlife sanctuary unrivalled for its beauty and abundance, somewhere to remind us of nature in all its glory. Miraculously, this “last place on earth” is still teeming with wild creatures, one of the best places in the world to see the great predators that have always enthralled us. It is a sacred, spiritual place, where visitors can still experience a sense of awe and respect for our planet.
It is almost beyond belief that it might one day die for lack of care and foresight on the part of humanity. Unless we evaluate and limit the impact of the human population on the environment to sustainable levels, we will continue to sacrifice the health of the planet and wellbeing of future generations.
These concerns prompted us, together with our son David and his wife Tori, to found the Sacred Nature Initiative (SNI), to help reconnect people to our planet through words and images, insights and inspiration. Pivotal to this is a new book, Sacred Nature: Reconnecting People to our Planet, planned for publication in Autumn 2021. This will take the ethos of the first book and apply it to the whole planet — to our mountains, forests, oceans, deserts and polar regions. As distinct as these landscapes appear, they are connected, each creating weather patterns and nourishing ecosystems that together comprise the global biosphere. Our intention is to reveal the wonder and beauty of our world, instilling a sense of awe and concern for its wellbeing, to inspire, educate and conserve, while highlighting the challenges and proposing solutions.
Pivotal to this effort are our young people. It is essential for children to experience the wonder of nature from the earliest age, at home and in school. Parents must become teachers, sharing the wonder of nature with their offspring so they learn how the natural world works, how the very essence of life — the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink — is a gift from nature, embedding a sense of gratitude for life.
Understanding that the natural environment is not inexhaustible is imperative. It is heartening to see the way the younger generation are stepping up and demanding answers and accountability from their elders. Activists such as Greta Thunberg are incredibly well informed about the issues that threaten life on Earth, from climate change to a loss of biodiversity. She is not alone. Children around the world have taken it upon themselves to act, articulating their demands in a flurry of school strikes and demonstrations that have attracted millions of followers and embarrassed politicians and leaders far and wide. But will it be enough?
A working knowledge of the history of nature must form the bedrock of learning for every generation (making a GCSE in Natural History a part of the school curriculum is in the pipeline in the UK and would be a welcome addition). The focus now must be global. The realisation that we are all connected through nature must become the common thread that unites us.
We desperately need leaders who put the health of the planet first. Only by doing that can humanity survive. If the most important lesson from the Covid-19 pandemic is that we are in this together, that we must plan for the long-term future, then will we be able to look back on this moment as pivotal in shaping a more sustainable future for humans as part of nature.
For more on the Sacred Nature Initiative, visit www.bigcatpeople.com
Some of the Scott’s very best images are available as Fine Art Photography Prints, including both Limited and Open Editions. These are available for purchase from www.bigcatpeople.com/prints for delivery worldwide. In purchasing one of their prints, you will be contributing to the Sacred Nature Initiative, helping to inspire others about the wonders of our planet, educate people about its fragility and ultimately contribute to its conservation.