"Yet there is a serious problem with our idea of sacred nature, and that is that the idol is a false one. If we experience the natural world as a place of succor and comfort, it is in large part because we have made it so. Only 20 percent of the earth’s terrestrial surface is still home to all the large mammals it held five hundred years ago, and even across those refugia they are drastically reduced in abundance. The seas have lost an estimated 90 percent of their biggest fish. For decades there were almost no wolves, grizzly bears, or even bald eagles in the lower 48 [states of the US], and modern recovery projects have brought them back to only a small fraction of their former ranges. Scientists speak of an “ecology of fear” that once guided the movements and behavior of animals that shared land- and seascapes with toothy predators—an anxiety that humans once shared. In much of what’s left of the wild, that dread no longer applies even to deer or rabbits, let alone us. The sheer abundance and variety of the living world, its endless chaos of killing and starving and rutting and suffering, its routine horrors of mass death and infanticide and parasites and drought have faded from sight and mind. We have rendered nature an easy god to worship."
- J.B. MacKinnon, False Idyll.This is a fascinating essay describing the evolution of our attitudes towards the natural world under the effects of our de-naturing of it. In short, the argument is that Romantic idealisation of Nature as sublime other is only possible (and necessary) after the de-wilding of wild places, the enormous upheaval that human presence or actions have effected upon the vast majority of the planet, especially the destruction of large predators that pose a direct physical threat to humans. Almost no predator larger than a dog has escaped losses in excess of 80-90% due to human activities. "There is little public awareness of impending biotic impoverishment because the drivers of collapse are the absence of essentially invisible processes [...] and because the ensuing transformations are slow and often subtle, involving gradual compositional changes that are beyond the powers of observation of most lay observers." We are bringers of profound change, and yet the changes we effect are often hidden from our own eyes, only registering gradually in large cultural shifts in our attitudes.
It is a false humility to pretend that humans are too puny to be shaping the world and its geophysical and ecological systems in profound ways. Humility means honestly facing the truth about our impact and making our political and ethical deliberations in light of it.