Did you know that Europe was once covered in rainforests? Towering trees, a thousand years old, wide as an elephant and over 70m tall, dotted the landscape. They were connected, able to share information and nutrients with their large and small neighbours through fungal networks. They competed, collaborated, and used sophisticated chemicals to warn of pests, visitors and changing weather conditions. Their shared presence anchored the soil and shielded them from extreme temperatures and harsh weather. Their transpiration produced clouds, invited steady rains and helped transport water into the depths of the continent.
These forests were home to countless species, including lions, elephants, rhinoceroses, mammoths and more. Generations of creatures lived, died and evolved together, gradually shaping and adapting to their environment.
These communities are but one example of the richness that has forsaken our planet. Ancient mariners describe how the ocean would churn for days as fish migrated along its coast. Colonisers arriving in the Americas were awed when billions of passenger pigeons blotted out the sun.
Too much has been lost and forgotten.
Humans were born in the crucible of these ecosystems. The plants and creatures we lived with – still live with – are our distant relatives. We have common ancestors and share much of our DNA. They too have endured the joys and struggle of survival on earth.
Yet we treat them as disposable, unthinking and inert. We exploit them like we exploit each other for individual gain. We deny our kinship to nature like we deny the people who make our clothes, empty our trash, clean our streets and produce our food.
This way of thinking sentences us to loneliness and mental isolation. We forget that we are our environment, so we become disassociated from our selves and the world around us. We feel lost and no amount of education, wealth or careerism can fill this void within.
This emptiness is not inevitable. It is a cultural pathology that enables our unsustainable society to take from the environment without giving back.
We will feel better if we rewild our society, reconnect with life around us and adapt our technology and industry to natural symbiosis. This will require ambitious, large-scale projects like bringing back the European Amazon. Incredibly enough, this will even help us fight escalating global crises such as climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation.
Isn’t that more rewarding than the never-ending pursuit of wealth, fame and power?
Constantijn van Aartsen, PhD Candidate, Private Law