When I was a little girl, my mother told me that God is love. But my first mystical experience came in what, to an adult eye, probably looked like an overgrown vacant lot. To me, it was a magical grove of honey locust trees that I entered with awe. Graceful white flowers hung from the branches. Bees thrummed hypnotically. The blossoms poured out a heavenly scent.
Later, as a young teen, I’d roam the country roads near our suburban home, on my bicycle or on my filly. I realize now I was seeking those moments of wild joy that came, unbidden, at the sound of the meadowlark’s song.
I believe that God is Nature—manifest throughout the universe, but most of all in everything that lives. Humans are as much a part of the natural order as are the chorus frogs that used to lull me to sleep on summer nights in the deep South.
Even though our species may have gained vast technological power through the unique combination of an opposable thumb and a large cerebral cortex, Homo sapiens is nevertheless a part of nature, not outside of it. I believe that as part of nature, people have an inherent attitude of curiosity and care toward living things: what the famed ecologist Edward O. Wilson calls biophilia. I can see it in my five-year-old daughter as she oohs and aahs adoringly over a tiny roly poly bug crawling across her fingers. I can see it in my high school students trying hard to be hip but unable to conceal their fascination with turtles, deer, seeds, and cicadas.
Intellectually, I know there are many reasons for protecting the environment. There are reasons based on self-interest and reasons based on ethics. I know that Earth’s ecosystems provide the raw materials for our economic and physical well-being: food crops, new drugs, clean water, and a vast array of useful new products. I know that even the lowly snail darter deserves to live. But for me, those arguments have always felt slightly off the mark. My own deeply held sense of the sacredness of our planet, however politically incorrect, always seemed the most compelling argument.
Society is now in an accelerating race to stop species extinctions and to blunt the far-reaching effects of global warming. To win that race, I am betting not only on the human brain and the technological thumb, but on the biophilic heart.
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