When we think of man and the environment from a sustainable view point, we hope to see man living with nature together – not hurting it.  However, peaceful coexistence without taking something is not sustainable for the population concentrations that exist today. Maybe it never was. Clearly, some kind of intervention has to occur. Can we really say that “nature will take its course” when man cuts down all the forests so we can heat our homes?  Do we want our bodies to heal naturally or do we take medicines to help heal us? Certainly, life expectancy would be much shorter in the former case.

This paradox is evidenced well by the food industry, which still seems puzzled by what foods are natural. I don’t think that you need a degree in food science or to work for the Food and Drug Administration to know that food that is taken from the earth in some way and then processed into something else is no longer natural.  Similarly, in the building industry, when we use bamboo to make flooring it is no longer in its natural state and therefore should not be labeled as natural.  Michael Pollan, the author of a recent article in the NY Times, Why, ‘Natural’ Doesn’t Mean Anything Anymore, discusses the inconsistency of what natural means, both in the food industry and otherwise.

So, what is natural in the relationship between man and earth?  Man has altered nature since well before the birth of Christ.  Deforestation began in the Middle East, in This happened again on a massive scale to the Sumerian culture in 2,700 BC forcing them to move from Assyria to Babylonia.  Currently, unsustainable deforestation is still a problem, stripping the earth of countless trees in order to create agricultural land, wood, and paper products, while causing loss of species and promoting climate change.

Photo by Joel Sartore

Photo by Joel Sartore

We pick our foods from the earth, and then cook them to eat.  We take materials from the earth and make them into building products. Perhaps the only meaning left to the term natural could be the rising and the setting of the sun, the tides and the constellations of the stars.  Give man a few thousand years and we can change that as well.