What politicians can learn from nature

Julian Lagnado

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In this October’s issue of the popular French science magazine Science et Vie, there was a colourful summary of a review published in Science six months ago. It seems that many species are proving to be highly adaptable and resilient to climatic warming and pollution. Scientists are impressed by sea coral’s capacity to recuperate after the dramatic warming linked to the El Niño effect in 1998. They are also surprised to find that microbial diversity is abundant in the giant floating islands of plastic in the North Pacific; flora and fauna are alive and blooming in urban areas, even in radioactive Chernobyl; and the tundra is becoming arboreal. The article asks the question: ‘Does this not contradict the incessant media and scientific pessimism about the disappearance of species?’ It also quotes a scientist who says: ‘We should not only be talking about the loss of biodiversity but also about how it changes.’

It is de rigueur today to sneer at man’s achievements, to snigger at his folly and hubris, and even, in some influential circles, to assert nature’s primacy over Homo sapiens’ intelligence. By objectifying man to deterministic scrutiny we underestimate his subjective potential. However, in a world in which the invertebrate political class has become increasingly wary of change, I think the microbes flourishing on plastic bags can teach us a valuable lesson about the Enlightenment.

Rousseau and Goethe appeared at a time when the natural sciences were being born. They gave expression to the wonders of nature, appreciating them for what they were – colossal and magnificent. They recognised a harmony between nature and man, not a confrontation; a unity, not a difference.

The lesson for today is this: microbes, bacteria, animals and plants are less freaked out by change than humans. Nature appears to be more adaptable and open to change than man – or, at least, the risk-averse men currently in power. It is said that art holds the mirror up to nature; perhaps we can say today that nature holds the mirror up to art.

Julian Lagnado is a writer living in France.

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