Nature is not your mother (It’s not even your friend.)

Two years ago, we were in Iceland for a short time and saw the sights, so to speak. There were glaciers, waterfalls, hot springs, ponies, a whole lot of empty land. and more blondes than a TV news anchor convention. But one sight I really wanted to see was only accessible by ferry of small plane.

The Westman Islands off the southern coast are the home of a Volcano called Eldfell. In 1973, on the main island port of Heimeay, the volcano erupted and started raining fire and ash down on the adjacent town. What was worse, however, was the steadily growing river of molten lava that started spreading out and engulfing nearby homes. As the eruption continued, it looked as if the entire town would be wiped out, and even if it somehow wasn’t, the lava would soon block the narrow harbor entrance, destroying the local economy and everyone’s livelihood.

With so much at stake, people sought a way to fight back. Fight back? Against a VOLCANO?

Well, yes, in fact. Lava is molten rock. What if it could be cooled enough to slow down or even solidify? Using a number of heavy duty pumps mounted on barges and on the land, people began pumping rivers of seawater onto the lava, creating clouds of scalding steam rising into the sky. At first, nothing happened, but as more pumps were brought on line, the Icelanders found they could actually divert and direct the lava away from their homes and the harbor by cooling the edge to form a sort of dam that would divert the rest of the flow away. This epic struggle of man vs nature went on for days, and the outcome was often in doubt, but finally, the Eldfell slowed down and stopped. Half the town was destroyed, but half remained and the vital harbor was still clear. As you can see by the aerial photo below, the lava (the dark gray area) was stopped just short of destroying the town and blocking the harbor entrance.

Image

I think about Westman whenever I read or hear of someone talking about how nature or Gaia is everyone’s “mother” and gives us sustaining life and happiness, so we should all recycle, limit carbon, walk to work, go Vegan, or whatever else is currently fashionable to worship out “mother”.

Well, sorry, but nature is not our mother. What sort of mother is completely indifferent to whether her children live of die? What sort of a mother would kill her own children? Oh, nature is a wondrous thing. It is capable of great beauty and provides food, water, medicines, building materials, and a lot more, because we have learned to utilize it. But come on. Nature also provides thousands of varieties of poisonous insects, sea creatures, animals and plants. Nature features tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, killing frosts, and countless ways of visiting death on her “children”. Nature provides Pandas and fuzzy bunnies, but also rats, poisonous snakes, plague germs, and stinging insects. Some animals look cute, but most animals live lives that are short, hungry and uncertain and die horribly as prey of other animals, hunger, thirst, exposure, or disease.

Still think nature is you mother? Consider: If you go out into  a blizzard without a coat, you real mother will scold you and probably come after you with a coat for you to wear; nature will kill you. If you go out in the ocean in a rowboat during a storm, your real mother will call the Coast Guard; nature will kill you. Your real mother will make sure you wash your hands to avoid germs; nature IS the germs, and if you get the wrong type of germs, nature will kill you.

Well, you get the idea. Nature is not something to be worshiped; nature is something to be overcome, or at least, accommodated. Many of man’s greatest achievements are ways of overcoming the brutal effects of nature. We create buildings and clothing to keep nature from killing us due to exposure. We build bridges because if left up to nature, we could only cross rivers by swimming. We refine agriculture because nature would not provide a sufficient quantity of pest free food for us to survive. We developed dams to protect us against nature’s floods and irrigation systems to protect us against nature’s droughts. We developed medicine to fight sickness and injuries that would otherwise kill us. We developed weather forecasting to protect us against the murderous fury of nature.

So by all means appreciate the majesty and complexity of nature, as well as its wonder and beauty, but never think nature is your mother.

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About johnreisinger

retired engineer and author of historical fiction and non fiction. My current book is Master Detective, the story of America's Sherlock Holmes and his involvement in the Lindbergh kidnapping investigation.
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