Environment

Take on Nature: Beds are burning

Human activity is causing dramatic changes to eco-systems

SOMETIMES a simple image can tell a story far better than a page of words or even a whole book and for me it was an Ian Knox cartoon in The Irish News last week.

Featuring a character with his head in the shape of Northern Ireland it included the words 'What climate change?'

Of course it is not just some people in the north who are in denial about what is happening to our planet and the clear evidence that human activity is causing dramatic changes to the very eco-systems that allowed us to evolve and become the dominant species on the Earth in the first place.

Over the past few days I have been reading a book called Primal Myths by Barbara Sproul, which takes ancient stories gathered from folklore or from tribal peoples throughout the world.

And in nearly all of them, some dating back thousands of years, there is a sense that humanity has fractured and become separate from the rest of nature and by putting itself above it is destroying it and that ultimately this will lead to its downfall.

The Yao people of Mozambique, in east Africa, tell how when humans were put on Earth they learned to make fire by running two sticks together.

But the fire burned through the forests where the animals lived and they fled in terror. The humans also started to catch the other animals and cook them on their fires before eating them.

Their god Mulungu was distressed at the sight of the forests burning and the humans killing the beasts that lived there and he asked a spider to spin him a rope which he climbed and went to live in the sky, leaving the earth to the cruelty of man.

The late Co Kerry philosopher John Moriarty also delved deeply into the folklore and myths from throughout the world.

In his book Invoking Ireland he focuses almost entirely on Irish myths to illustrate his belief that there has been a schism between what we as humans instinctively are and what we have become and how we choose to live.

For Moriarty, the mythological peoples of the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomorians personify the schism.

He describes the Dé Danann as a highly enlightened people who "spent their time acquiring visionary insights and foresights and hindsights, acquiring the occult knowledge and the occult art of the wizard, the druid, the witch, these, together with all the magical arts, until, masters in everything concerning them, they had no equals in the world".

It was their "particular delight to be of one mind with the wind and rain"... "you could walk through the land and not know they were in it".

By contrast, the brutal Fomorians are out to exploit nature, rather than be a part of it.

Their arrival in Ireland saw "forests cut down, rivers rerouted, towers everywhere, it was soon clear it must come to a fight".

But in the epic battles that followed it was ultimately the Fomorians who were victorious and who dominate the psychic and physical makeup of the modern Irish while the Tuatha Dé Danann became spectral figures "harmonised to all things [they] were of one mind with the wind and rain. Now again, you could walk through the land and not know they are in it".

As Primal Myths and the writings of Moriarty illustrate, there has been an innate understanding among humans for millennia that we have taken a wrong turn with regard to how we treat the very nature that sustains us.

Both our collective psyches and hard science are screaming out a warning to us, but sadly Ian Knox's poignant cartoon and its succinct depiction of societal denial is another warning that it is complacency could be the main factor in our downfall.

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Environment