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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Fighting Mother Nature

In the 70’s I worked for a company that was testing the idea of renting a new home video technology we now know as video cassettes (VHS and Betamax). At the time, no one actually knew what people wanted to rent, how much they would be willing to pay, how they would obtain and return videos and a dozen other questions. Our firm hoped to compete in this emerging market and so we decided that a real world market research test could answer many if not all of the questions. Movies were a logical place to begin so I was dispatched to Hollywood to strike deals with studios. It was not a highly successful effort. At that time, movie studios were united in their belief that this new technology would destroy their franchise through widespread piracy. You may even recall the stern FBI warning that appeared at the beginning of every tape.

Not only were studios afraid that their intellectual property would be stolen, they did not see any possible profit in licensing their works as the number of people who owned players at the time was in the thousands and the high cost of obtaining a player ($1,500 or more) was prohibitive at the time. Few could foresee the cost dropping dramatically, and adoption increasing exponentially just a few years down the road. But it made my task difficult and only a few very marginal studios would even sit down for a meeting.

One that did was a studio that made grade B family pictures—low cost, and low quality lacking a name cast or for that matter much of a story line. We licensed a few titles from them including one that had a distinctive catch phrase. It was entitled Wilderness Family, and the ridiculous marketing hook went like this: “They could fight Mother Nature, but not the IRS.” You can see why they were eager to generate some revenue for their pictures—any revenue.

I’ll leave you to imagine the story line for this absurd movie. Let me just say that in 89 minutes of quite beautiful natural scenery very little fighting of either mother nature or the government occurred. The catch phrase was perhaps the best and certainly funniest part of the movie. But it has stayed with me over the years—perhaps because it was so absurd, and recently got me thinking about the characterization of Mother Nature as both a nurturing and malevolent spirit. Surely that view is one which humanity has harbored from inception. Nature (and I intentionally leave behind the maternal designation) is neither fickle nor intentional, neither malevolent nor benevolent. However we may characterize our feelings, our reactions when Nature behaves as it does says more about us than about the natural forces at work.

While we are in the midst of a pandemic of epic proportion, modern scientific knowledge have so far kept it from wiping out all of humanity—as indeed the Plague and other pandemics of the past came close to accomplishing. We should be grateful, but of course there are those whose religious views or scientific illiteracy see disease and its prevention through hooded eyes. Disease, and other threats to humanity are not the result of an angry God or Nature itself, but as we have learned are the product of our self-indulgent and thoughtless abuse of the natural world in which we live. Today, that result is a widespread disease and tomorrow it will be climate extremes that we may no longer be able to reverse. Famine, floods, life threatening pollution, extreme temperatures and dozens of other byproducts of our relentless disregard for our planet are the culprit. But despite all the evidence and concurrence of the scientific community, those who seek to enrich themselves, those for whom it is an article of political or religious faith to believe we have not brought this on ourselves, actively resist attempts to cease this insanity.

It turns out that we cannot fight Mother Nature. The remedy, as much as many of us try to practice it, is not more recycling, less travel or any of the other individual steps we are challenged to take. Please do not misunderstand me, while these are important steps and should be done, the scale is simply insufficient to address the situation. The latest studies make clear that only a concerted international effort to cease the use of all fossil fuels, to allow the oceans to once again function without the overburden of macro and micro plastics that kill oxygen producing algae, to restore forest lands and dozens of other steps can hold the hope of mediating the destruction of our planet, our home.

Nature has the power over time to heal, to restore balance but only if we have not pushed it beyond the tipping point—a course on which we are presently engaged. There is arguably no greater urgency. We are not characters in a B grade movie, this story is all too real.

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