Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Long reads
10 January 2005updated 24 Sep 2015 11:46am

Natural . . . but not nice

By Patrick West

We live in a time in which we are exhorted to worship or “live in harmony” with nature. Human beings are seen as despoilers of the earth who seem interested merely in causing wars and wrecking the environment. Many, adopting James Lovelock’s Gaia theory, believe that humans are a parasitic presence on the planet. Our misanthropic consensus deems that which is man-made “bad” and that which is natural “good”.

This is why organic food is seen as better than crops treated with pesticides, why orthodox medicine is spurned in favour of “natural remedies”, why genetically modified “Frankenstein foods” are shunned, why bottled spring water is thought healthier than chemically treated tap water. On edible goods in supermarkets, “natural” is now one of the words most commonly employed to appeal to consumers.

Yet the south Asian earthquake is a reminder that nature is not a benign force; it can often be far more destructive than humankind. It is precisely because humans are not slaves to nature that we can overcome it, that we are able to live happier and healthier lives.

Earthquakes are “natural”. So are cancer, short-sightedness and troublesome wisdom teeth. But hospitals, spectacles, dentists – and, indeed, aid and rescue operations – are fundamentally unnatural.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
Transport is the core of levelling up
The forgotten crisis: How businesses can boost biodiversity
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery