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We are being told that the current flooding in the Midwest is unprecedented – but I wonder. In his book, “The End of Nature,” Bill McKibben muses that our view of life has been based on the concept that nature is eternal, beautiful and varied, changing slowly if at all. We have tried to understand the extent of its variability by compiling record temperature, rainfall, droughts, storms, etc. But now, with the human introduction of carbon dioxide and the like into the atmosphere, we have finally changed our world so that nothing can ever again be totally natural. All meteorological records are probably less an indication of nature’s variability than of human-induced change. McKibben’s words sound ever louder in our ears: “By the end of nature, I do not mean the end of the world. The rain will still fall and the sun shine, though differently than before. When I say ‘nature’ I mean a certain set of human ideas about the world and our place in it. But the death of those ideas begins with concrete changes in the reality around us – changes that scientists can measure and enumerate. More and more frequently, these changes will clash with our perceptions, until, finally our sense of nature as eternal and separate is washed away, and we will see all too clearly what we have done ee
“By changing the weather, we make every spot on earth man-made and artificial. We have deprived nature of its independence, and that is fatal to its meaning. Nature’s independence is its meaning; without it there is nothing but us ee from now on there isn’t summer, just ‘summer.’”
What a sad realization. And with this epic flooding his use of the phrase “washed away” seems even more prophetic. We worry for the people affected by the floodwaters. But are we all partly responsible? Nature’s flood might have been a few crucial feet lower.
McKibben also correctly points out this perhaps stronger, more abiding sadness: “We may have had some intuition that our unbelievable prosperity was a binge, and the Earth couldn’t support it, but aside from the easy things ee we didn’t do much. We didn’t turn our lives around to prevent it. Our sadness is almost an aesthetic response – appropriate because we have marred a great, mad, profligate work of art, taken a hammer to the most perfectly proportioned of sculptures.”
Charles “Chick” Keller