Today is Earth day. It’s also Lenin‘s birthday, which the Conservatives and Libertarians are quite fond of pointing out. But, then again, it’s also Jack Nicholson’s birthday. Make a conspiracy out of that.

Personally, I’ve always believed that Earth day ought to always fall on a Sunday, because without the Sun, we would have neither the Earth nor the day.

Call me selfish, but I’m not interested in protecting the environment for the sake of the Earth per se. The Earth will still be the Earth, even should its atmosphere become more like that of Venus.

The really rock-solid reason for environmentalism is that it’s worth our while to ensure the Earth can continue to sustain us humans, in my opinion. People might respond better if you focus on that bit.

I meant to blog about this at the time, but I didn’t, so here it is now:

A week after the Gulf oil spill started, Rush Limbaugh said:

“You do survive these things. I’m not advocating don’t care about it hitting the shore or coast and whatever you can do to keep it out of there is fine and dandy, but the ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and was left out there. It’s natural. It’s as natural as the ocean water is.”

Which, like virtually everything Limbaugh says, upset people. But he is right–sort of. But he also makes a huge mistake.

It has always seemed to me that people draw a distinction between “natural” and “unnatural”, but really they shouldn’t. After all, are machines not made from naturally occurring elements? People have merely interacted with these elements to produce a new organism which produces different output. It is as natural a reaction as one could wish.

Strictly speaking, anything which can be said to exist is “natural”, precisely because if it were not natural it could not exist.

Limbaugh seems to assume that because the oil will be absorbed “naturally”, it is okay. When in fact the planet’s reaction–perfectly natural though it may be–may have dire long-term consequences for the living creatures currently inhabiting it.

So yes, it is literally impossible to harm “nature”. Nature is everything. The worst we can hope to do is to alter our environment so as to make it unlivable. (Which, by the way, I don’t think the oil spill has come close to doing.) But the point is that just because something is “natural”–which everything is–has absolutely no relevance to whether it is good for human life or not.