The Paradox of Human Power Over Nature

Humans have, at once, an immense power to alter the Earth on an astonishing scale, while also being practically helpless against a microscopic pathogen. The two readings this week, together, really highlight this point. On one hand, I see the changes humans have been making to the planet and think calling the current time period the Anthropocene is the only appropriate choice. Our mass emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, the massive quantity of extinctions as a result of our actions, the mind boggling use of land and resources for our survival, and pretty much every other impact of human life make us a massive force for change on the planet. However, being so human centric in our categorization of the time period does not feel quite right when considering the damage a small pathogen has caused humanity over the past two years. 

COVID-19 has demonstrated, in a very real way, how vulnerable we are as humans. Not only as individuals, but also as a species. In the time of the Anthropocene, it seems it has become the default to view humans as separate and above nature. If we are powerful enough to have our own geological time period in which we are the primary force for change on the planet, we must have reached a point where we can keep nature in check and bend it to our will. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us this is not true. Looking at past examples of unimaginably deadly disease outbreaks, like Smallpox in Latin America, and comparing the scale of these horrors to COVID-19, we need to take nature seriously. We are not more powerful than nature, we are one with nature. We must realize this in order to best, and most safely operate as a species. 

To be clear, there is no doubt that we are in the Anthropocene, but we need to view this truth as an opportunity to work with and respect nature rather than to force our will upon it. Moving forward, humanity must work to sustainably survive through collaboration with nature and not dominance over it. Being in the Anthropocene does not mean we have reached a state of ultimate power over nature. It means that we have reached a dangerous tipping point where we have the power to alter the delicate balance of the natural system in which we live, without the power to deal with the consequences that are sure to follow.

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