Julia Roberts as Mother Nature: She Wants to Kill Us
A new environmentalist video calls mankind puny and threatens to wipe us out.
Julia Roberts delivers a stone-cold video message from Gaia, courtesy of Conservation International. There is something bracing and powerful in this little film. We moderns surely do need to be reminded that material reality poses stark limitations on our narcissistic desires. We can’t foul our nest, wreck the only known habitable planet and expect it to magically fix itself. Thus far, we’re on board with Julia.
Check the video out for yourself:
What is off-putting and ominous about this video is the narrator’s tone and language as she discusses humanity. Speaking with all the haughty disdain we’d associate with the Witch-Queen of Narnia, Roberts scoffs at man as an insignificant and transient biological blip. “I have fed species greater than you,” she warns. “And I have starved species greater than you.”
In what sense could this be true? By what criteria could one judge a species greater than humanity? Yes, most dinosaurs weighed more. Insects and microbes outnumber us. Alligators have been around longer. (Is that what they always seem to be grinning about?) But somehow, body mass, numbers or sheer longevity don’t stack up as measures of greatness.
No single species has had a greater impact, for better or worse, on planet earth than human beings. This has led biologists to name this era the Anthropocene, to mark the massive effects of human efforts on the biosphere. The Conservation International video obscures this empirical reality along with the even more fundamental truth that humans are unique among their fellow animals as creatures made in the image of the Creator.
This oversight is impoverishing all around. Conservation International’s video is “subhumanist.” As we wrote in The Race to Save Our Century:
Subhumanism is a pale, degraded copy of the brave image of man asserted during the Renaissance; it lacks the confident rationality that inspired the Enlightenment; it has shrugged off the dreams of self-transcendence and communion with nature that beguiled the romantics. When we speak of humanity now, too often we think in terms of ecological damage, excessive numbers, and intractable hatreds. Ecologists have even taught us to see ourselves as a kind of plague on the planet, with our generation’s task to limit the damage we do to the rest of the biosphere. And yet, somehow and from somewhere, we are said to possess a set of things called “human rights,” which can be so expansive as to include the right to transgender reassignment surgery funded by our neighbors, but which do not necessarily include the right of terminal patients to food and water.
When we were growing up, the tone of environmental messages was winsome, poignant and mournful — along the lines still used by animal shelters. Those of a certain age will remember the public service ad that showed various gorgeous American landscapes, befouled with trash — then cut to a noble American Indian, who looked on stoically except for a single tear that ran down his cheek. Programs such as Wild Kingdom highlighted the beauties of God’s creation, then solemnly recounted the various threats to the integrity of species and habitats posed by man’s growing and heedless dominance over the biosphere.
These environmentalist messages reminded us of an important truth. While human lives have been vastly improved and extended by the modern drive to make man (in Descartes’ words) “the master and possessor of nature,” the earth has paid a price. As one of us (Zmirak) wrote in 2002:
Almost every nature show ended sadly, in a catalogue of dangers to [God’s] extraordinary creation: Tractors plowing down mangrove stands, chain saws felling ancient redwoods, bounty hunters gunning down the proud elephant or rhino for tusk or horn, hacking off the shark’s fin and leaving him to drown, the gold-miner burning whole forests or poisoning rivers to gain a handful of gleaming nuggets. The narrator would chronicle how many wondrous species were already extinct — hunted like the passenger pigeon or buffalo for sport, massacred for hat plumes, aphrodisiacs, or cheap protein by reckless adventurers. The more sophisticated programs would take account of the difficult lives of the men who lived in or near these habitats, how their struggle for survival and development led them into tragic conflict with the beasts and birds, the latter doomed to dwindle and disappear, before the implacable needs of man and his machines.
The answer isn’t to ignore the unique creative capacity of human beings, or to imagine that humility and gentleness can be sown in our hearts with the lie that we are less than the ants because we are fewer. This is the confusion of Conservation International.
The answer also isn’t to power up our bulldozers, laugh at the “tree huggers” and gleefully clear-cut the natural order.
Surely there is room for conservatives to practice conservation. Surely there is space for Christians to champion the integrity and beauty of God’s creation in the face of man’s fallen will and its limitless quest for comfort, variety and instant gratification.
We are creators and stewards, uniquely made in the image of the Creator. At the same time, a created order pervades the biological world. We disregard both truths at our peril.