Letting Go of Control

Video 15 0 00 07-22
University of Wyoming Engineering Building

The continuing attempts by humans to control the natural world has reached such a frenzy that we are at a point of diminishing returns. Our cities are becoming more and more dysfunctional as continued growth causes increased economic and logistical problems. Cities, counties and states, even countries are unable to generate enough funds through taxes to pay for necessary infrastructure and maintenance.

Meanwhile, technocrats, such as the folks at The Breakthrough Institute, insist that the effects of human growth and development can be “decoupled” from Nature, so that human societies can continue to grow indefinitely. They call the present geological epoch the Anthropocene: the era when human culture supersedes natural biophysical cycles and processes.

“The reconciliation between humans and nature, which is held by many who favor the Anthropocene viewpoint, takes place as a universal victory of culture, negating the possibility to understand and protect life and aliveness. What is saluted as the end of dualism is a hidden new self-aggrandizement of humankind, an attitude that again threatens to convert nature into a project of cultivation and control. ” Weber, A. Kurt, H. 2015. Towards Cultures of Aliveness. Solutions. Vol 6, No. 5. pp. 58-65 – http://thesolutionsjournal.com/node/237402

Control may seem desirable for physicists, engineers, economists and County planners, but it falls far short of reality. In fact, many of us have long questioned the whole idea of progress in terms of control of Nature for human benefit. We think instead about the relationship between humans and nature in cooperative terms.

The emphasis on control of Nature is seen in the debates over climate change, industrial agriculture, genetically modified organisms, nuclear energy, wilderness designation, endangered species, deforestation and ocean resource extraction.

On the one hand, control of nature has benefited humans through the construction of the vast material infrastructure of civilization, which allows some to live in unimaginable luxury. It has also resulted in millions of humans living in abject poverty at levels lower than if they were subsistence hunter-gatherers. At the same time, this attempt to control nature has caused untold destruction of natural habitats and the species who live within them, seriously degrading the biosphere upon which all life depends.

“Sustainability” and “sustainable development” are the modern terms that reveal the depth of our ambivalence about control of Nature. The word “sustainable” bears “unsustainable” as  its mirror image, the recognition that there is a way of living that can continue indefinitely, and a way of living that cannot. The fact that massive international organizations claim to be working toward “sustainable development” demonstrates that they understand that what is happening right now is “unsustainable development.”

The natural world is cyclical and non-linear. Humans want the world to be static and linear, dominated by cause and effect, unchanging, predictable. Humans want to be in control.

Nature has other ideas, worked out in exquisite detail over billions of years of evolution, ideas that involve networks instead of hierarchies, cycles instead of linear chains. In Nature “wastes” are food for the next step in the cycle. Energy flows through natural systems, transformed to resources through biochemical processes. The sun is the source of all energy, on which all life depends.

If humans are to develop “sustainable” societies, we must learn to emulate natural systems, not attempt to control them. We must work in cooperation with all of life, not in opposition to it. We must become part of the flow of the energy of life, not a stop-gap for its diminution.

It’s time to put away the tools marked control and relearn how to use those marked cooperation, co-evolution and partnership.


2 thoughts on “Letting Go of Control

  1. I have just finished reading John McPhee’s 1989 “The Control of Nature.” Three chapters: one about making the Mississippi River how and where people want it to go, one about the people on an island of Iceland trying to make the flow of its volcano go where they wanted it to go, and the final chapter about absurd manipulation of the naturally erodible San Gabriel mountains above the Los Angeles basin.

    I just shake my head at the hubris. Humans, the least intelligent species of the planet.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s