The path to ecological survival

June 17, 2021

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

Ben Northam contemplates how humanity can and must repair our relationship with the ‘natural world’

The scent of burned charcoal permeates the previously vibrant forest floor. An eerie silence pervades an oozing mud strewn plane where once cacophonies of monkey-howls and bird song emanated across turquoise rivers and swaying, dancing treetops.

Mining has left layers of slashing, seeping scars in the flesh of this ancient jungle. Only rusted scabs remain in the now skeletal carcass of a paradise long forgotten, the whimpers of a distant strangled wind the only testament of life.

This is Caraja’s: the world’s largest iron ore mine, a gash in the flesh of the Brazilian Amazon. Yet this description is not unique to Brazil. The same story of unregulated ecological destruction plays out relentlessly across every continent in jaw-dropping proportions.

Encroaching palm oil plantations besiege the Sumatran forests of Indonesia, logging companies tear into the Congo rainforest destroying indigenous legacies in their wake. Even here in the UK, Johnson’s vanity project, HS2 is being rolled out: set to decimate 108 ancient woodlands and rip into the throbbing heart of the British countryside.

Our economic system swears its oath not to the people or planet but to the almighty grail of infinite economic growth

How did we dig ourselves so deeply into this abyss of ecological annihilation and why knowingly are we still digging?

It doesn’t take long to find the answers. Material consumerism, like a poison, has seeped into our cultures. Advertising agencies have manipulated and artificially created a need in us to believe we always need more. We judge ourselves and others on the number of accumulated products and fashion accessories.

Businesses swear their oath not to the people or planet but to the almighty grail of infinite economic growth, fuelled by shareholders demanding ever-higher returns. The same unending growth politicians tout whilst simultaneously churning out empty promises of environmental and social change.

Consumerism, a broken system and political inaction are all valid reasons for the unprecedented magnitude of ecological destruction humanity is carrying out. However, what if they are just symptoms of a much deeper, forgotten cause? A cause which has slipped humankind’s memory and explains why we are wrecking our common home alongside all of the inhabitants who share it with us.

Our species is just one branch of the human family which is one branch of the animal kingdom which is one branch of the whole global ecosystem

The cause is not something external. It originates in the internal thoughts and mind of every individual. Fundamentally, we as individuals and as a species have forgotten that we are a part of nature. We see the environment as something ‘out there’ in the wilderness or in scattered nature reserves, not in the very fabric of our cities, homes and ultimately ourselves.

Centuries of living cocooned in towns and fortressed concrete jungles have put up not only a physical barrier between us and the ‘environment’ but, more importantly, a psychological one.

We look upon the natural world as different, regarding ourselves as an almost alien species: driving around in unnatural machines, using unnatural gadgets and sleeping in constructed, unnatural homes.

We seem to have forgotten that every house, road and even the technology we use, are just raw-materials assembled in a different form. Dwellings are just a bundle of clay, cement and wood mixed together. iPhones are just a concoction of coltan, copper and aluminium. If our towns and tools are nothing but ‘nature’ re-expressed, then what are we?


Terence McKenna, a philosopher and mystic explains how we must understand our connection to nature and widen our circle of compassion to create a sustainable way of life.

Tracing back human lineage, we discover the first Homo Sapien fossils are found in Africa, specifically Morocco, dating back to approximately 300,000 years ago. There were seven other now extinct species classed as part of the Homo (human) family: we are the eighth and only surviving one.

Our species is just one branch of the human family which is just one branch of the animal kingdom which is just one branch of the whole global ecosystem.

We are animals who have developed brilliant technologies and built immense structures. Yet with each new construction we have carved a deeper and deeper line in our minds between us and the ‘environment’. The line may have become more engrained, but it remains undeniable that we are an inseparable part of the natural world.

Scientists determine the Earth to have originated around 4.5 billion years ago. If we were to watch Earth’s timeline we would see it grow cells, oceans, plants, animals and, in more recent times, us.

But over this period our minds have been moulded and bent to regard ourselves as something cut off from the ‘environment’. Our belief in our separateness has made humanity adopt the state of tribalism.

Every lost memory can be re-remembered, ever forgotten behaviour relearnt and every change reversed

Tribalism always leads to a feeling of ‘otherness’ to justify violence and destruction.

We go to war because we see the enemy as ‘other’, we cage, slaughter and eat animals because we see them as ‘other’ and we are on a relentless path to destroy our environment because we see it as ‘other’.

Our internal absence of understanding has created our outer negligence of the planet. It has created our deeply flawed economic system hell-bent on annihilating every inch of the non-human natural world in the name of eternal growth. A system with amnesia. A system whose engineers have forgotten what we are destroying ultimately is ourselves.

We have dug a deep, dark hole of ecological destruction. The promising light of a sustainable future for young people is fading, as the hollowness of governmental and corporate commitments echo louder by the day.

Lockdown forced us to sit in our homes, forced us to face ourselves and question what we truly value

But there is room for hope. It does not come from political chambers or corporate offices; it begins in the mind of every human being. We once saw ourselves as one with the environment: flowing rivers, swaying trees and feathered birds appeared as external reflections of own inner nature so we trod lightly and lived harmonically.

Every lost memory can be re-remembered, ever forgotten behaviour relearnt and every change reversed.

Each individual mind can wield more power than any mining machine, political policy or corporation. These are all just outward entities powered by inner human minds. When minds change, entities change. Machines instead can be used to build sustainable structures, policies can be established to enrich life not destroy it and corporations can become investment tools for social and environmental justice.

Lockdown forced us to sit in our homes, forced us to face ourselves and question what we truly value. We desperately need to change our current ecological trajectory, towards a way of life in balance and care for both each other and non-human nature.

This change begins in the mind of every individual, their outlook on the world and themselves. When a drop falls into an ocean it creates a ripple. Ripples create waves and waves change an ocean’s course. Who’s to say that drop in the ocean isn’t you?

Ben studies English, Politics and Philosophy at Woodhouse Sixth Form. He likes listening to UK based music, getting outside and reading.

Other work

Donate via PayPal

Exposure is an award-winning youth communications charity giving young people in north London a voice.

Please support us to continue our work. Thank you.