Harvesting nature

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Harvesting nature

You may have noticed that environmental history has influenced my thinking. It ought to be possible to learn from our mistakes, after all. It’s some comfort to know that humans in the past, too, have messed with their environment throughout history, turned forest into desert, polluted rivers, and poisoned themselves!

But we know so much more, in scientific terms, and we have remarkable tools for predicting the results of different courses of action. History—-and our great-grandchildren-—will judge us harshly if we do things now to protect and restore the natural environment we still, in spite of technology, depend on.

When I was in London last week, I got a taste of the past when I went to the Fan Museum in Greenwich.

I adore fans (my publishing company’s logo, in fact, is a fan) and there were beautiful fans from China, Japan, and European countries. What struck me was how their beauty, often, derived from nature. There was a case showing species of turtle from which polished tortoiseshell came. A large case was filled with Victorian presentation fans, the elaborate plumes women often carried when being ‘presented’ to the Queen. Ostriches are not terribly attractive, but their feathers are extraordinary, delicate puffy tips that must catch the faintest whisper of wind. Many of the fans incorporated other bright feathers, often with the species unidentified, and even shiny beetle wings. Some feathers were dyed, but most of the brilliance was direct from nature.

What were they thinking, one asks, the people who so profligately ‘harvested’ ivory and turtle shells and birds’ wings? What are we thinking, using clean water from ancient aquifers, timber from irreplaceable forests, and fossil fuels? It’s all a matter of perspective. Maybe what we need is ecological future fiction, to help us value the things we have in time to protect them.

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