by Shannon – Last week I was speaking at our BLiSC Science Café in Guwahati, Assam about chemical ecology and our research in the NICE Group. During the discussion, the conversation turned to our threatened ecosystems. An audience member asked why I think that humans have become so greedy and cold toward our natural world.
I replied that I don’t think humanity is truly any different from the days we lived in caves. We still care about the same things – the mantra of our lab – love hunger and fear. The difference is only that we have forgotten.
200 years ago, if you wanted to travel, you used an animal – yourself, or perhaps a horse, camel, or donkey. If you wanted to make dinner, you generally picked your ingredients from the garden or hunted for meat. Water came from streams and rivers. Homes were mostly built from mud, stone, and wood from the surrounding land. Human life lived and breathed along with the nature surrounding it.
Today, there are many in India who still get water directly from streams, food from gardens, and construction materials from the land. They are also the same people who suffer most quickly when the water is polluted, or the land degraded. But they are also the silent majority who lack the money or power to change these circumstances. And I doubt they are reading this blog.
The rest of us live in cities and towns, like this megacity of Bangalore. If you need water, go to the sink. Food comes from the local market. Houses are made of concrete. To us, nature seems far removed from our daily lives. Nature is a weekend trip to the Nilgiris.
But of course, our modern lives are just an illusion. The water from the sink comes from reservoirs fed by streams and rain. The food in the market is grown in fields, and even concrete comes from stone and rock. But we no longer get this ourselves. We, the wealthy in our AC homes and offices with Wifi, no longer carry our water jugs to the local stream. We no longer sweat over our fields for our tomatoes. We don’t have to cut the lumber or make the bricks for our homes.
So we forget. We forget that we are still as tied to nature as we were 200 years ago. In fact, the only difference is the length of the supply chain. But once that water dries up, the land is polluted, and our pollinators are gone, our Wifi won’t matter.
So, we need to remember. We must remind ourselves and our brethren that we are still part of Nature.
Nature sustains us, so we must maintain it in return.
Many of us wonder what our purpose is on this big blue marble. In Guwahati, a young student also asked me what I felt my job as a scientist really is. I thought for a while, then I answered:
My job is to remember. And to remind others in return.
I hope that someday soon all of us remember. Because the more we forget, the less chance we have that anyone will remain to remember us.