I’m reading ‘Hot, Flat, and Crowded’ by Thomas L. Friedman, and on p. 142 I read the following passage.
From what landscapes or flowerbeds would future painters draw their inspiration? What would move poets to write their sonnets, composers to craft their symphonies, and religious leaders and philosophers to contemplate the meaning of God by examining his handiwork up close and in miniature? To go through life without being able to smell a flower, swim a river, pluck the apple off a tree, or behold a mountain valley in spring is to be less than fully alive. Yes, one supposes, we would find substitutes, but nothing that could compare with the pristine bounty, beauth, colors and complexity of nature, without which we are literally ells human. Is it any wonder that studies show that hospital patients who have a view of natural scenery from their rooms recover more quickly?
That is, we need to save nature because of its pure beauty and how it ‘completes’ us humans. I don’t buy it. I think humans are able to see beauty in almost any surroundings. Beauty depends on preferences, and preferences are learned to a certain extent. Whether some preferences are shared among all humans, I’m not sure. I don’t think the beauty of nature is one, however. Maybe seeing beauty is a reflection of inner beauty?
I am willing to sacrifice some beautiful nature to take the spite out of our religious leaders!
Anyway, when it comes to motivating conservation and protection of pristine nature and biodiversity, I don’t think it is necessary to play the beauty card. Friedman’s entire book is devoted to exatcly that, and I find it unnecessary that he pulls out this beauty-schmeuty talk. (I guess he has a strong preference for natural beauty.) One is that nature is a big, chemical laboratory which contains the essential stuff in potential medicines to fight a lot of dangerous deseases. Friedman quotes the entomologist Edward O. Wilson (on p. 143), who wrote in ‘The Creation’,
Critics of environmentalism […] usually wave aside the small and the unfamiliar, which they tend to classify into two categories, bugs and weeds. It is easy for them to overlook the fact that these creatures make up the most of the organisms and species on Earth. They forget, if they ever knew, how the voracious caterpillars of an obscure moth from the American tropics saved Australia’s pastureland from the overgrowth of cactus; how a Madagascar “weed,” the rosy preiwinkle, provided the alkaloids that cure most cases of Hodgkin’s disease and acute childhood leukemia; how another substance from an obscure Norwegian fungus made possible the organ transplant industry; how a chemical from the saliva of leeches yielded a solvent that prevents blood clots during and after surgery; and so on through the pharmacopoeia that has stretched from the herbal medicines of Stone Age shamans to the magic-bullet cures of present-day biomedical science […] Wild species [also] enrich the soil, cleanse the water, pollinate most of the flowering plants. They create the very air we breath. Without these amenities, the remainder of human history would be nasty and brief.
Alright. A side-comment is that the mentioning of Norway in this paragraph reminded me of a paragraph in Bill Brysons book ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ (a really great book, by the way, that I would recommend to anyone slightly interested in science) where he describes how some Norwegian scientists dug up dirt and found a surprising variety of species from different places. Thinking back, it makes me wonder whether many species are found in only small and limited areas or whether their samples were representative; if I remember correctly, they only dug up a cubic meter of dirt from each location. (Thinking harder, I’m sure they thought of these things; it’s only in my short-sighted naivety I can imagine they didn’t.)