Here in the UK the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is running a wide-reaching campaign called ‘Give Nature a Home.’ Recently I’ve seen it advertised on TV, online, at community events and on posters in town centres. As I understand it the idea is to arm people with information about how they can take steps to create small pockets of habitat in their gardens and even on window ledges. The campaign seems to be particularly geared towards children, with children featuring on much of the marketing material.
I think the idea of guiding people to interact with their local flora and fauna has great merit. I believe it could help inculcate ecological attitudes which, particularly for children, could last a lifetime, fantastic! Of course, it may also have benefits for the local flora and fauna too, which is part of the aim of the program.
However, I can’t help but feel there’s something perverse in the statement ‘give nature a home’. It seems to have strong undertones of anthropocentrism and elevates humans to overseer of nature with the power to decide whether to give nature a home or not?! The net effect of this is that it fuels the pervasive idea that humans are separate from nature; an alien species that does not belong to this Earth. In truth we are very much natural and have co-evolved alongside all of the other creatures and ecosystems that we would call ‘nature’ today. In reality we should be grateful that nature’s abundance provides a home for us.
I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in ~ John Muir
My other issue with the wording of the campaign is that it somewhat objectifies nature. Although I understand that those behind it are earnestly trying to appeal to a wide audience and not allow philosophical argument to get in the way, the suggestion that nature is a neat package that we can choose to engage with or not, does play into the idea of human culture on one side and this collection of stuff we call nature on the other. In truth nature wears many masks – from vast rainforests, to tropical storms, monkeys, spiders, grass, human beings, the bacteria that live in our stomachs, as well as diseases and parasites. They’re all manifestations of nature? Furthermore, nature is the relationships between these – the interdependencies and mutual struggle for existence.
I admire the work of the RSPB and am grateful for what they do. Conservation is no easy task in a human society living out a cultural narrative which inevitably results in loss of habitat and impact on ecosystems. However, I believe that at some point we need to abandon the centuries old idea that nature is a neat collection of things on one side of the fence with humanity on the other.
In wildness is the preservation of the world ~ Thoreau
Progress is a word often misused in modern society since what we deem as such often comes at the expense of something which we should hold as sacred. Concerning our place in the myriad of life perhaps true progress will come as a result of embracing our co-animality with all other creatures and recognizing that we are very much embedded in the web of life on Earth.