My flight to Zurich was delayed by two hours. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the airplane meal so I decided to try and find something healthy to eat at JFK airport to pass the time. Choices were limited – the salads looked awfully depressed – so I ended up with a package of cold dumplings pedaled as hippy food (Organic! Vegan!).
I settled in to a row of seats, people watching and trying to enjoy my last dinner in the States. The busy terminal made for entertaining viewing even if my dinner left something to be desired.
Watching the stream of passengers, crew and airport staff meander by while I chewed, I noticed flutters of motion out of the corner of my eye. A small pack of hungry sparrows were on the prowl in the airport terminal. These made for even better entertainment than the humans below, and I and a couple eating on the seats next to me were all smiles as we watched the cheeky band of birds stalking around the rafters of the lofty ceiling. I marveled at their daring and dexterity as they dived down for a drink from a recently used water fountain, as they examined trashcans, as they hunted for opportunities for an easy dinner.
For an experiment, I broke off a small corner of dumpling and nonchalantly let it fall to the floor next to me. No more than a second later, one of the winged bandits was there, gulping up the morsel.
It occurred to me in this moment that nature is extremely resourceful.
Try as we humans might to control things – to create stable or sterile environments that we can predict – nature finds a way to work around, through, despite us. Sparrows and other animals will always find a way to thrive inside airports, train stations, shopping malls. Weeds or even trees will always push through cracks in the sidewalk. Storms will rage despite our attempts to predict or prepare for them. Nature just keeps on keeping on.
I grew up in an era when we were indoctrinated with the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” in kindergarten and the rallying cries were “Save the Earth!”, “Save the trees”, “Save the environment” and so on. The stance was that Mother Earth was a helpless victim that we were taking advantage of and destroying.
While it is true that we humans are ferociously consuming the resources available to us without enough regard to the impact of our actions, I believe it is a fallacy to think in terms of that simplified relationship – that it is nature who needs us.
Nature is no victim. Nature has no conscience and nature has all the time in the world – two facts which are NOT true of mankind. Species may be wiped out, coastlines may shift, cities may crumble, but nature will go on and will be just fine, with or without us. Again, this is a fact that is not applicable to us human. Nature will be fine without us, but without nature, us humans will be in pretty deep trouble. It is we who need nature.
So my question is: can people, governments and corporations be more easily motivated to change their thoughts and actions when they realize the hide they are trying to save is not Mother Earth’s, not the endangered spotted owl’s or the African elephant’s or any other poster child for “the environment”, but their own?
I was still smiling about the resourceful sparrow, and as I wasn’t really feeling the vegan organic cabbage dumplings (can you blame me?), I stealthily started dropping more crumbs to the ground. A minute passed, then two, and nobody had stopped by to eat them.
Confused, I looked around and saw that the couple next to me had had the same idea: a whole group of sparrows was gathered round enjoying their leftovers. Which goes to show that while nature may know how to survive despite humans, we do share one weakness in common: McDonald’s fries.
Category: Climate/natural disasters
Location: John F. Kennedy International Airport, Jamaica, NY