"THESE days, the authentic outdoor sporting experience is fast becoming an endangered species," begins an article in The New York Times about a $32 million dollar commerical park for kayaking and rafting under construction near Charlotte, N.C. The article interviews people who all say the same thing: the wonder of nature is lost when humans manufacture nature-like parks for sporting experiences, and without a sense of wonder, people will never get in the habit of preserving "the real thing."
This is a familiar argument. As Bill McKibben notes in his The End of Nature, "Wendell Berry once argued that without a 'fascination' with the wonder of the natural world 'the energy needed for its preservation will never be developed'—that 'there must be a mystique of the rain if we are ever to restore the purity of the rainfall.'" But as the title of McKibben's book suggests, we live in a world disenchanted with nature. This "fascination" no longer exists. "How can there be a mystique of the rain," asks McKibben, "now that every drop—even the drops that fall as snow on the Arctic, even the drops that fall deep in the remaining forest primeval—bears the permanent stamp of man? Having lost its separateness, it loses its special power. Instead of being a category like God—something beyond our control—it is now a category like the defense budget or the minimum wage, a problem we must work out. This in itself changes its meaning completely, and changes our reaction to it." This view of nature is such a part of our beliefs and actions that we hardly think twice when we hear Al Gore explain the pervasive effects of human-induced Global Warming on the globe, and how humans can conduct themselves in relation to nature so as to reverse this problem. The power of Al Gore's "slide show" to incite efforts to save our global environment presupposes not wonder of the natural world, but the power of man over that world. To be sure, Gore begins and ends his movie with moments of meditation on the splendors of nature, but these moments are subordinate to the emphasis he places on how much we understand about nature and man's influence upon it.
Gore's strategy and the NYT article alike reflect the reality that nature has become with us not a mystical thing encompassing our every action, but something of the nature of a hobby. As McKibben observes, “Nature has become a hobby with us. One person enjoys the outdoors, another likes cooking, a third favors breaking into military computers over his phone line….We have become in rapid order a people whose conscious need for nature is superficial.” This suggests that if real and widespread action is to be taken to counteract Global Warming, a major shift is needed in the way we perceive and conceptualize nature. Otherwise, as the Piedpiper quipped in a pessimistically honest way, the only people Gore will persuade are those who already believed in him and his cause long before they saw the movie. I fear that by presenting his concern with nature as his hobby, Gore only reinforces the very worldview that has lead us into this mess in the first place. But I hope I'm wrong.