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MOTHER NATURE CAN BE A WICKED OLD WITCH

 

Lyall Watson is a South African naturalist who earned his doctorate in biology from a German university. His first writing, Supernature, sold one million copies. The book demonstrates how nature is worthy of awe for its breathtaking accomplishments.  More recently Watson wrote another best seller entitled Dark Nature: A Natural History of Evil. This also earned rave reviews around the world.  Dark Nature presents a no less awesome account of nature’s capacity to do thoroughly bad things. 

 

Starting with the “selfish” gene that for millions of years has been bred to fight for its own survival at any cost, Dr.Watson shows how this is manifested in the predatory, territorial, xenophobic, and for ten percent of all life, the parasitic behaviour of the animal kingdom. Nature throws up examples of sexual aggression, pack rape and incest. He lifts the veil upon a vast killing field where nearly every species exists to be some other species’ dinner. He cites the words of the great naturalist, T.H.Huxley, “Mother nature is a wicked old witch!”  Any farmer who has to fight for survival against wind, hail, floods, diseases, tick, fluke, anthracnose and other pests would be inclined to agree.

 

Rene Dubos was a pioneer of modern environmental thinking. An advocate of wetlands conservation, he originated the famous slogan, “Think globally, act locally.”

Dubos was not only critical of human ecological abuses, but he was also critical of how natural systems can be wasteful and plagued by shortcomings. He felt that the growing veneration of nature was a foolhardy distraction. He angered many nature worshippers by declaring, “Nature does not know best.”

 

Another person who fell out of favour with the environmentalists was toxicologist Bruce Ames. He became some kind of hero to them when he proved that a popular fire retardant was carcinogenic, but then he became a villain to the same people after 20 years of research convinced him that naturally occurring plant chemicals are more dangerous than chemical additives and pesticides. Nature produces toxins, poisons, and venoms aplenty.  Some scientists now estimate that plants regularly pour 10,000 times more carcinogens into the atmosphere than man-made chemicals.

 

As much as we loathe disease carrying ticks, mosquitoes, and lice (all products of mother nature), microbiology demonstrates that the most dangerous animals on earth are the ones we can’t see.  Many of these naturally occurring bacteria and fungi are beneficial, and each of us harbour more micro-biological life on our persons than the human population of the world. Some micro-organisms (all very natural), however, are real killers, causing malaria, rabies, tuberculosis, stomach ulcers, mengoccocal disease, legionnaires disease, SARS and lots more. Before the discovery of antibiotics people died like flies from infectious diseases caused by deadly micro-organisms. 

 

 Medical technology is now able to remediate some of mother natures foul-ups such as life-threatening birth defects, naturally occurring cancers and breakdowns due to genetic weaknesses as common as poorly constructed feet. It was not long ago that a simple case of an inflamed appendix (an organ mother nature gave us that serves no useful purpose) was a certain death sentence. So too, women frequently died giving birth, and most children died before the age of five as a result of a naturally occurring organism that caused dysentery. The Bubonic Plague wiped out one third of Europe’s population in one epidemic. The great flu epidemic in 1917 killed 25 million people – a number that greatly exceeded all those killed in World War 1. Thanks to modern medicine, many infectious diseases like Smallpox that used to kill millions of people have been conquered. Much remains to be done to overcome life-threatening problems, but let us not forget that the average human life-span has doubled in the last one hundred years.

 

The simple fact is that ever since humans began putting on clothes to protect themselves from the natural elements, making fire to render natural food more nourishing, or managing the natural vegetation to produce more food, humans have been learning how to modify, improve, and control the work of mother nature.

 

Potentially and ultimately, the human mind, with its powers of intelligence, cognitive decision-making and planning, is superior to nature. Troglodytes who find this philosophy abhorrent, would, if they were consistent, go live in a cave and prefer the spell of witches to modern medicine. In answer to those who point to human blunders such as thalidomide, Chernobyl, Gallipole, DDT and land salination, we point out that human consciousness is relatively a very new development. If the age of this world was depicted as a clock spanning a year, then humans have only arrived in the last five-minutes. They have only just risen to their feet to advance beyond the stumbling stage of human infancy. Even in such a brief time-frame there has been enormous human progress. Why should we think that the future should be any different?  

 

 As Greg Easterbrook puts it in his Moment on the Earth, “Nature has structural flaws and physical limitations. Genus Homo may be able to change that. People may be here because nature needs us – perhaps, needs us desperately.” Mother nature had already wiped out 99% of all the species she had formed before humans walked this earth.  Has this creature that has been invested with intelligence and consciousness arrived to hasten the age-old process of the extinction of species, or can human science and technology now be used to prevent it? It has already started to happen. Humans have the potential to manage nature in such a way as to make a better world.