I want to touch upon a subject brought up in the latter section of Katz’ piece – “natural” human childbirth without medical intervention. He claims that childbirth can only be natural if no medical advancements are used in assisting with it. First of all, how dare he make such a rude claim, especially as a male? I take personal offense to this, as my mother endured 26 hours of labor before I was born via emergency C-section; had that not been available, I’d have possibly grown up without a mother or a younger brother, provided that I survived in the first place. Second of all, are humans not the ones who created such medical advancements? One could argue that medical advancements are technically natural. Third of all, and probably most importantly – Katz, what’s your damn point here? What do women have to gain from refraining from the use of technology to make birthing easier, other than a greater probability of dying from complications and more bragging rights on natural-mommy Internet forums?
Humans do everything that they do for the same reason every other living being does what it does – the drive to survive and pass on future genes. This is what fuels evolutionary success. Every advancement we make is ultimately to improve human life and longevity, whether it be medical advancements to save lives, agricultural technologies to increase food yields, or even habitat restoration such that ecosystems can continue to function as they evolved to. Emphasis on that last part – the reason humans are environmentalists is such that the Earth can continue to be a habitable biosphere, because it is made habitable by the ecosystems of which it is comprised. Forests provide a sink for carbon dioxide, aerobic respirators consume oxygen to keep it at a steady 21% atmospheric concentration; some of these organisms consume plant life, and others consume those organisms to keep their populations in check. The reason we study ecology and environmental science is to try and keep the biosphere in the steady state under which we came into being, such that we may continue to exist as a species – in other words, not necessarily to harvest its products and byproducts directly. And yes, it may be true that a re-created forest identical to an original old-growth forest may not have the same value, but what is the alternative here? To risk losing the “blueprints” of such a forest in case nature fails to revive it?
Two weeks ago I visited the University of Virginia to explore what their graduate programs had to offer; on our last day there, some students took us to Monticello. During a tour inside the home, the tour guide informed us that the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns the house and property, is constantly working to restore the house as closely as possible to its original state; for instance, trying to develop a paint that would recreate the exact color Jefferson had chosen in his day. One may ask, what’s the point if it’s not original? I have an answer: to give future generations a taste of what it might have been like, rather than lose their heritage to the erosion of history.
Nature itself, in my opinion, is characterized by something undergoing perpetual change. Every seven years, all the cells in the human body will have died and replaced themselves; yet when running into an old friend a decade or two later, we still consider them to be that same person. At the end of the day, what difference does it make if something is “original” or “natural” as opposed to a recreation?
The only difference I can think of is that perhaps there is more “magic” associated with something that came about spontaneously compared to something that was designed and put into place. I explored a similar topic in an essay for my first-year seminar, in which I argued that the prospect of life having randomly evolved is more wondrous than an “intelligent creator” (e.g. God) having made it intently. But humans are not intelligent omnipotent creators; we are still learning every day about new components of nature, and I think that the goal of being able to create an exact replica of a natural creation is a lofty yet achievable goal for humanity. How wonderful would it be if we were to completely restore a habitat we affected back to its original functionality? Humanity would be the ultimate example of something that screwed up and managed to fix its mistakes before dying from the consequences, a feat accomplished by no other species (at least that I know of). Perhaps the critics of environmental restoration need to check their egos, as they seem to regard humanity as completely separate from nature, while in reality we are a part of nature itself, imperfect, constantly learning from our mistakes.