Ryan and I watched the first episode of Blue Planet 2 yesterday. David Attenborough is at the helm for another series showing the awe and wonder of the natural world, using clever camera work, an intrepid crew and the occasional parlour trick to show us things we would never normally see, and – for the most part – could never imagine. Dolphins and false killer whales meeting up as old friends. A fish that carries a clam from the edge of the reef to its own personal anvil to crack it open. Fish that change sex. Marine plants (seaweed and phytoplankton) that produce at least as much oxygen as land plants, and probably much more.
Over the weekend, more people watched Blue Planet 2 than either the X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing. The natural world still has the power to enthrall and entertain us, even though we have lost our connection to it.
Since we discovered how to farm animals and crops, we have increasingly thought of ourselves as separate from Nature. Nature is ours to control, to subdue, and (sadly) eradicate. The major religions don’t help much, with their assertions that we as a species are special, that what we do on Earth is only a means to reaching Heaven, and that the Earth is ultimately doomed by some sort of apocalypse anyway.
As Masters of the Earth, with our greed, expanding population and polluting technologies, we have created havoc. Mass extinctions. A massive hole in the ozone layer. Climate change. Omnipresent plastic pollution. We’re addicted to quick and easy fixes; carrying your own refillable water bottle is currently seen as the height of environmentalism.
It’s a bit ironic that it took a photo from space to really bring to our attention that we only have one planet and we should take better care of it. Since the 1970s the environmental movement has been trying (with varying degrees of success) to tell us that we are Stewards of the Earth, and that we should be taking better care of it so that we have a planet to pass on to future generations.
Being Stewards of nature is a big step forward, but it’s not good enough. Stewards are caretakers (custodians, in US English). Stewards are there to maintain things. To keep them clean, report/repair damage. To ensure that there’s no trespassing and vandalism. The problem is that they’re still in a position of authority, they’re still in charge of the Earth.
If we’re ever going to find a way out of the mess we have created, we need to re-learn humility. We need to understand that we are children of the Earth. Citizens. Stakeholders, in modern business parlance. Stakeholders are part of a community. They are just one part of a community, have an interest in its success, and need to work alongside all the other stakeholders to ensure the best possible result for everyone. Or, in this case, for everything.
We need to remember that we’re just one cog in the complex machinery of life. We may feel we are special, and that we have control, but in truth we lack much understanding of how life works and what effect our actions have. We rarely feel that other beings on this planet have rights at all, let alone stop and try and consider what their needs and wishes might be. We don’t listen.
Our Blue Planet is 70% water. We may feel like big fish, but the truth is that’s a very, very large pond.