I found this little gem while on Patheos a while ago and it was in the pagan section of their religious blogs: Are Hurricanes and Wildfires Persons? Respect the Power of Nature. Clunky title, I’ll be the first to admit and it gets a bit more interesting the more we go along. So let’s get started, shall we?
First off: I won’t be quoting the whole blog post. I just need to touch on some relevant points. If you want to give the entire thing a read, go right ahead. Once was enough for me, thanks. The reasons should be fairly obvious. With that out of the way, here we go!
As I write this on Thursday, the Columbia Gorge – where I was just two weeks ago – is on fire. The fire was set by careless teenagers and it is exacerbated by decades of human interference in the natural cycle of fire and regrowth in Western forests.
Bear this passage in mind. We’re going to need it in a moment. Afterwards, the author mentions the recent hurricanes and how destructive they have been. Then, he says this:
That doesn’t mean Nature didn’t do it on purpose.
I’m sorry, what? Nature is not a living entity. It doesn’t do anything on purpose. There are no thought processes involved. This is simply forces acting on other forces. But most importantly, remember that previous passage? The one about the fires?
It wasn’t nature that started those fires. It was humans. Nature was just acting according to an external force; it wasn’t like that area of the country woke up one day and said, “You know what? Fuck humans and the fact that they’re fucking with my ecosystem. I’mma burn some shit down to show ’em.” No, it was some teenaged kids doing stupid shit that got the ball rolling here. They are the ones that need to be blamed and taken to task over this.
Does a hurricane have consciousness? I don’t know. Most people would say no. But a hurricane most definitely has agency – the ability to act according to its nature and desires. You can argue that a hurricane has no desires, but it clearly has a nature: strong winds and massive rains, spawning thunderstorms and tornadoes. It leaves chaos in its wake.
No, a hurricane does not have agency, as agency denotes free will. A hurricane is influenced by external factors and forces, such as high and low pressure systems, ocean currents and the like. I lived in a hurricane prone area; the reason why we were hit so often was due to the Gulf Stream. Hurricanes thrive on warm water and that is a major source near the coast of North Carolina. Thusly, they follow that Stream and smack right into our coast. There is no free will involved in any of this. This is also why you won’t see a hurricane hit Los Angeles. The water off the coast of Cali is too cold. So the West Coast is usually spared.
These behaviors, if you can even call them that, are influenced by weather conditions, outside forces and the like. There is no brain power or free will or anything of the sort involved in any of this. It’s cause and effect.
A hurricane does what it wants to do and it does not care that it destroys lives and livelihoods.
As I said, a hurricane is influenced by external forces. There are outside factors that cause the storm to travel the path it travels. Low and high pressure systems can push the storm out to sea or cause it to change course. A hurricane can’t force its way anywhere, as it isn’t a human being and cannot make decisions.
Are forest fires conscious? Do they have desires? They certainly have a nature: to consume all organic matter in their paths.
Actually, fire is a chemical reaction, it has no desire, no nature, no agency. It is merely acting in accordance to physical laws. Again, we’re humanizing something that will never be human, that will never have any true thought processes.
Or to put it bluntly: Fire can’t think. It’s 2017 and I’m more than a little embarrassed to have to type those words. It blows my mind that the author didn’t consider that himself.
Whether the destructive forces of Nature are conscious or not is a good topic for conversation around a campfire and several bottles of wine. The easier question is whether they are persons. The more urgent question is whether we will interact with them as persons. Will we show them the honor and respect that persons deserve?
We can respect natural phenomena. We need to respect natural phenomena. Because if we don’t, we will keep losing out to the natural phenomena.
Natural phenomena can happen anywhere. A freak storm with a sudden microburst can rip apart even a sturdy building. The spring thaw can bring flooding. A prolonged drought can turn a small, wooded area into a tinderbox. This sort of thing can happen anytime, anywhere. That is just a fact of life. But they are not people and should not be treated as such.
If we do, we will be more careful where we choose to live. The flood plain belongs to the waters – we will leave it to the waters. The fire has a much right to the timber as we do – we will let it take its share.
Does that mean I can’t live in Wisconsin, as tornadoes are a thing that exist here? Does that mean that the tornado has just as much a right to occupy my residence as I do, because I have a major damned problem with that. Or what about the snow and ice? Is my presence here intruding on its ability to live and thrive?
Say that last little bit out loud. Yes, it does sound more than a little crazy. But it’s also something that the author did not even mention.
In my area, we name winter storms, just like hurricanes. But does granting a snowstorm a name give it personhood? Should it be considered human? A winter storm can wreak a lot of havoc; why isn’t the author claiming that such storms should garner similar respect? Is it because of the scale of a hurricane is so much more awesome? Let’s be honest here: 150 mile an hour winds are hard to fathom. Fifteen inches of snow can hardly compare to that.
The author mentions that this is a good topic of conversation while around a campfire, sipping wine. I disagree. This is good topic of conversation when viewed with a scientific attitude, a dash of logic and a healthy dose of skepticism. Because a little critical thinking on this subject matter will tell you that no, weather phenomena is just that, a phenomena. Weather shouldn’t be considered human because it isn’t. Nature was never a mother, just a persona that has always acted because of the forces that surrounds it. There is nothing at all human about it. It’s just weather, plain and simple.