We Live In Nature, Not Off It

In the central yard of my office building, there are some hedges. Just some shrubbery here and there, about three feet high, popping out of the ground. It’s nice to walk through the square and smell them. The extra green makes the place feel kinder and more alive.

Actually, it’s not the shrubbery that’s “extra.” It’s the building around it. That’s the addition. Where, by default, there was nature, we planted a house — and a massive one, in this case. Thousands of square-meters, reaching five floors high into the sky.

Just because we roll out cities made of concrete and glass like carpets covering nature’s living room floor does not mean we now live anywhere other than in nature. Everything we erect is in nature. Nothing humans build is separate from earth. Everything happens on the same blue planet, and without it, we’d have no sandbox to do anything in at all.

The longer you live in a big city, the easier it is to forget this. To feel like nature is a separate county. A place you can only reach after a one-hour drive. Actually, you only need to look up. The sky is always there.

We feel guilty about bulldozing nature, of course. That’s why we add some greenery back in. Still, it’s not quite the same, and that’s why many people leave cities behind on weekends. Cities emit a sense of consuming nature. That we feed off it, drain it, and, to some extent, the data shows that’s exactly what we’re doing.

When you run through an open meadow or hike up a mountain, however, you remember: We live in nature, and we do so at all times. Smart cities try to maintain that status. To blend with nature rather than overwrite it. And the cities who most ignore this principle? Sooner or later, nature herself will remind them. Pompeii comes to mind, but there are others.

We can’t fix all our mistakes in a day, and there’s no telling how much longer earth will tolerate us, but for now, let’s remember to remember: We live in nature, not off it, and where we can’t align with this truth, we can at least give thanks for it — and be a little more mindful to not erode the hills on which we sit.