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The First Law of Human Existence

It should be obvious, but it’s not. So let’s reconnect.

Today I want to share something that I have always preached. It’s a simple truth that I have told myself and others for almost ten years — since the beginning of my environmental activism. I call it the first law of human existence. It involves a visit to my personal past. When I was in university, I took a class called Environmental History. There, I read a book that changed my life. A thick, data-packed volume by Clive Ponting titled ‘A New Green History of the World’. It’s the story of human civilizations and its impacts on nature. It teaches you the scale of the damage homo sapiens has had on the planet. Honestly, it’s a grim read. I had a hard time swallowing the many facts I found, such as how humans drove 80% of the megafauna in the Americas out of existence almost as soon as we set foot there, or that our modern, affluent lives have increased the scale and intensity of our damage to the environment. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time in the great outdoors. I trekked jungles in Borneo. I climbed mountains in Hakuba. I swam in the waters of Okinawa. I was thrilled by the colors, the sounds, the smells of the wilderness. I was captivated by the abundance and variety of life, overwhelmed by the force of nature, awestruck by the beauty of the Earth, and brought to chills by its indifference. I learned so much from the wild and developed a deep love for it. But it turned out that I lived in a world built on the destruction of nature. From its very foundation, society was against what I loved. Development was a history of annihilation, and I was its most recent child, stamping on what I considered dear without even noticing. I was the carnage. What was worse, this catastrophic treadmill was only accelerating, and I felt powerless. I hated this discovery. So much so, that it pushed me into the grim crevasse of a depression. Depression is a fascinating state. More than darkness, there is a devastating stillness. Within its clutch, nothing can make you happy and nothing can make you sad. You are so blank that you don’t know how to feel, you sometimes forget to breathe, and soon, you can’t remember why you should continue to live. Fortunately, I was able to climb out of the slippery embrace. And it was a certain realization that gave me the strength to do so — one so obvious, so simple, and yet so profound. One that I call the first law of human existence. It goes like this: We are taken care of by nature. Early in our lives, we are taught that there are four things we need to live: water, food, shelter, and clothes. What’s taken for granted in this lesson is the layer that lies underneath. Every single second, the sun pours onto Earth, warming the atmosphere to suitable temperatures, creating conditions that enable living creatures to flourish. At over 100,000 km per hour, this planet is on a circumsolar journey, strumming the cadences of life that we experience as seasons. Standing upon the Earth are our feeble selves, breathing in the oxygen produced by the forests and oceans. When we look up, we see the silver moon, quietly swirling the seas in the constant rhythm of tides. These are just slivers of the vast and interwoven networks that support us today, and from which our tale began 4.2 billion years ago. Without ever having to ask for it or think about it, we are being taken care of by Mother Nature. In fact, we are as infants; in absolute dependence of her. Even as societies become more complex, the first law of human existence stands firm. The phones in our hands, the concrete beneath our feet, the walls of our homes, the elaborate clothing we put on our bodies — all the things we depend on today — are but transformations of the environment. They are the products of the ingenuity of humankind, absolutely, but they rely on nature for their existence. The first law of our existence shouldn’t be a surprise. It should actually be obvious with every breath, every bite, every sunset, and yet we are woefully disconnected from it. The tragedy lies in the consequences of the disconnection. What happens when we ignore the first law and take beyond what nature is capable of giving? A New Green History of the World offers a version of an answer in its opening chapter on Easter Island. When its people took beyond the giving capacity of its accessible environment, the highly sophisticated civilization came to a sudden and gruesome collapse. What remains today are the magnificent and mysterious Moai statues, and traces of pollen suggesting that the now barren island was once covered in trees. Today, we find ourselves drowning under a multitude of environmental crises. Polluted air, the slashing and burning of ancient forests, climate breakdown, plastic oceans, collapsing ecosystems, to name just a few. What are these if not a representation of our disconnection from the first law? And what will be our fate if we continue on our ignorant march? Every morning, the sun rises from the east and sets in the west. We wake, we eat, we breathe, we excrete, we fall in love, we dance, we sleep. Every moment is a reminder of the miracle of life and an opportunity to reestablish our connection to the first law. This Earth Day, why not look up to the moon and turn the tide. It’s about time we started giving back to Mother Nature. weMORI is one way you can do that.

Hello! And thank you for reading the article. My name is Ian. I’m the founder of a for-impact organization called weMORI. At weMORI, we’re building a smartphone app that puts the power to protect and restore forests at your fingertips. Supporting projects that protect and restore forests is the best thing we can do as individuals to address climate breakdown and biodiversity loss. weMORI enables you to do exactly that with just a few taps on a screen. Our goal is to use the platform to create a global movement of forest action. For more, visit our website HERE and sign up to the weMORI team! It would make myself, the staff and the volunteers hard at work, really happy if you did. Oh, and if you enjoyed this post, please give it a clap! Thanks, Ian

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