By Thomas Hughes, on 1 February 2016
This Lunch Hour Lecture by Professor Henrietta Moore (UCL Institute for Global Prosperity) looked at humans’ ability to give things in nature; plants, animals, even mountains and rivers, a consciousness and assign intentions to them. Can this help us to build a better relationship with nature and build a prosperous future?
Professor Moore opened by talking about a modern art project that was just a neon sign of a telephone number. When the number was called and it connected, the caller could hear the live sounds from a glacier.
So we can hear the glacier, but can it hear us? Many people in the past have certainly believed so. Tribes living on glaciers in Canada believed that the glaciers were social spaces and would react to being disrespected, and that the glaciers particularly disliked the smell of frying bacon. People interpreted the will of the glacier though its “surges” where the glacier would expand or shrink.
During the Little Ice Age, from the 16th to the 19th centuries, the glaciers moved so far into France that the local people assumed that they had angered it. They ran to it with swords to drive it away and brought a bishop to bless it.
Many societies around the world continue to venerate forests, rivers and mountains and believe that nature must be compensated if angered or damaged. Ecuador and Bolivia have enshrined these rights in their constitutions. Can this help us form a moral framework to protect nature?