I grew up with nature all around me and have always had a love for it. The twelve years I spent in an apartment building in Brooklyn were torture. If I ever had to live in a city for the rest of my life with no access to some kind of form of Nature (Central Park barely counts), I would probably go insane.
This week, I was asked to go on a “Nature Walk” for an hour with no technology for my English class. Now that I live in the suburbs of Staten Island, I usually have these walks daily. This past Wednesday, in the wake of the election, I decided to have a particularly long walk in order to clear my head. Before I took my walk, I had been browsing the internet and came across a quote: “Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you.” I dismissed it as one of those weird overly-dramatic tumblr quotes but the words stayed with me during my walk.
Near my house, there is this gated military veterans community which,despite having gates, is open to everyone. Past the rows of houses, there is a road to the side that leads to Fort Wadworth, a gigantic structure that was used to defend Manhattan and the Upper Bay area. Past that, you pass underneath the Verrazano bridge and onto a road that leads to the ocean nearby.
As I walked along that road, the noise of the cars above on the bridge nag on the edge of my mind like the buzzing of a fly. The marathon was on Sunday and there were still tents and trucks set up nearby and I am hit with this feeling of sadness. As I continue on my way towards the ocean, I can’t help but think of how much trash and garbage is strewn all over the place so that a bunch of people could run across the five boroughs. I saw literally tons of plastic water bottles that were brought in for the racers and I just felt a sense of defeat to see all that plastic brought in for a stupid race (literally it’s the most annoying thing, they close up the entire Verrazano bridge which makes it really hard to get out of Staten unless you take the ferry all the way to Manhattan and I know it’s a Sunday but why is it ok to close one of the only two exits for an ISLAND? The amount of police and noise that was all over the place, and I live right near the bridge so everytime I stepped out of my house I had to hear it all so a bunch of people can run and a bunch of companies could advertise).
What really saddens me is not the inconvenience on my expense but rather the idea of it. The marathon is not the only event that is extremely wasteful. Go to any party anywhere, restaurant, or any venue with food and you will see a majority of it end up in the trash. I used to work in a retail store and saw so much food go to waste because people didn’t like what they bought. As I make it closer to the ocean, my heartbeat begins to slow down as the sounds of the waves come to the forefront of my mind and the sounds of the bridge blur behind me. Along the edges of the sand that come close to the road I am walking on, there are trees and shrubs that hide my view of the ocean but I could hear it and I could smell it.
As I think about the quote further, I start to see it differently. Many nature preservation efforts are centered towards showing nature as this beautiful sanctuary that must be protected at all costs. Whenever you see commercials about saving animals, you hear that woman singing about the arms of an angel and you always see animals that look like they’re crying. The idea is to show nature as calm and beautiful and animals as having human emotions. But the truth is, Nature is messed up and crazy. Nature is just as much the tornado that tears entire homes off of their foundations as it is the gentle autumn breeze in the middle of September. It is the lion that could tear your head off and the small, furry domestic kitty that will bite your finger when you pet her in the wrong place. Nature is everything: goodness and evil, horror and beauty, life and death.
It’s a sad but unfortunately true fact of humanity that we are incapable of feeling empathy for something we cannot understand. It is why we kill one another and wage wars. It is why we built things like Fort Wadsworth, or the nuclear bombs and the drones we use to arm ourselves with and terrify our enemies. It is why our ancestors committed genocides and enslaved one another because they saw no similarities within one another to deserve any kind of sympathy.
It is why some people don’t see Global Warming as a problem. Who cares if the tigers go extinct? Who cares if entire rainforests are destroyed? What do they have to do with us? Does it matter if we destroy nature if it is helping further ourselves as the human race?
What terrifies me about Trump, among many other things which I cannot possibly get into right now, is the fact that he doesn’t believe Global Warming exists. Personally, I don’t care if I have nothing in common with tigers, they still deserve to live. I don’t care if I never set foot on a rainforest, I don’t care if its inconvenient for humanity, I don’t care if our technology would become better as a result of it, I can never be okay with letting this planet be destroyed for our sake.
Going back to the quote, death is only the end if we believe the story is about us. We as humans think that this world belongs to us. Many religions explicitly state that God made the world and its animals for human use. For most of history, we believed that our planet, and even our own nations were the center of the world and everything revolved around us. But the truth is, nature doesn’t need us at all. We could all die tomorrow and nature will continue without even blinking. The fort that I see everyday when I walk by the ocean is a remnant of wars from America’s first conception as a nation but now it is just a hollow structure upon which vines and trees have begun to grow, as if nature wanted to claim it back for itself.
I’d like to think that one day, we as human beings can learn to become capable of caring about things simply because we have no right to abuse them. We have no right to kill all the animals we share the planet with. We have no right to kill all of the trees. Even if we could find a way to live without this planet and create our own resources, why would we ever want to and why should we? What gives us that right? This planet has existed for millions of years before us and will continue to exist for millions more (hopefully) and we have absolutely no right to destroy it and affect it as we have.