Provocations # 14 – Managing Ourselves

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Recently I was at a scientific conference about observing the oceans. My colleagues, learned and well intentioned all, kept talking about sustainability and development and the need to manage nature in one way or another. “We must manage the oceans for…”, insert your favorite noun here; fisheries, marine debris, commerce, etc. Immediately this did not sit well with me and as the conference progressed I became more and more convinced that this was simply wrong.

It soon came to me during one talk about how a fisheries recovered when policies were implemented in order to give the ecosystem a break — a chance to recover (it was a regional example in Europe). That’s the key. Nature does not need to be managed. She has managed quite well on her own for billions of years without human intervention. [I must interject that the word, “billions”, leaves me feeling suddenly nostalgic for Carl Sagan.] In fact when humans try to intervene to improve nature, the result is often the opposite.

What we need to manage is ourselves. We should manage humans and work with Nature.

It is that simple. One might argue that this is semantics. But language matters. If we view Nature as a resource to be exploited, then that is what we will do and eventually it is game over; the planet is finite. If we recognize Nature as having inherent value and rights, and begin to manage ourselves –our population, our consumption, our pollution, how we treat one another and the planet– well, therein lies our hope. Nature is resilient. Give her a chance and she will recover and thrive and support us. If we do not, then she will die and so will we.

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