Why Daffodils Mean Death

This article is from the archive of our partner .

AUTHOR: Alain de Botton, writing at BBC News

CONTENTION: Human beings have certain responsibilities to the planet, and it's easy to lose sight of this, but we mustn't lose sight of it.

TAKE US TO ESCHATOLOGYVILLE: "There is nothing new for mankind about confronting the possibility of its own destruction. The feeling that the present order - the neat fields, the ordered laundry cupboards, the full granaries - might soon disappear would have been intensely familiar to any inhabitant of medieval Europe. You need only study the carvings on the sides of the cathedrals to see that our imaginations have for centuries been haunted by visions of Armageddon."

A GRIM THOUGHT: "We might do worse than to date our present ecological awareness to the moment when the two bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These weapons showed us not only that mankind was perishable (an old thought), but that it was perishable through human action (rather than because of disease-bearing rats). In other words, that we have acquired the power to commit species suicide."

SUNNY DAYS MEAN DEATH: "An unusually warm spring day cannot now be what it was for Chaucer and Wordsworth - a manifestation of the mystery and power of the non-human realm ... Nature used to terrify us, now we terrify ourselves. We are responsible for the early flowering of those Wordsworthian daffodils. Our fingerprints are all over the uncannily early return of the migratory birds."

Recommended Reading

SOMEONE CALL A VET: "We have in response to our situation become hysterically sentimental towards nature. We take pity on her. We treat all of her like a wounded panda."

WHAT DID UNBORN BABIES EVER DO FOR US? "The role of the commentator on the environment is at one level to enable us to notice changes that are occurring. But at another level, it is also a question of getting us to care. And this is a tall order, for... we are being asked to worry about other people who are not yet born as much as we worry about ourselves. Never before in the history of humanity have we been asked to care so much about others of whom we know so little. Our empathetic powers have been stretched to breaking point."

SO WHAT'S THE ANSWER? "This may be where art has to come in. It is artists who are going to have to help us to picture - literally and figuratively - dangers which are generally invisible and are therefore constantly subsumed under the weight of our more mundane or personally intense concerns. Artists may have no solutions, but they are the ones who can come up with the words and images to make visible and important the most abstract and impersonal of challenges."

ALSO, LET'S THINK ABOUT SOME STARS EVERY DAY:  "The environmental crisis forces us to find our feelings of awe elsewhere, out in the universe... We would do well to meditate daily, rather as the religious do on their God, on the 9.5 trillion kilometres which comprise a single light-year, or perhaps on the luminosity of the largest known star in our galaxy, Eta Carinae, 7,500 light-years distant, 400 times the size of the sun and 4 million times as bright. We should punctuate our calendars with celebrations in honour of VY Canis Majoris, a red hypergiant in the constellation Canis Major, 5,000 light-years from earth and 2,100 times bigger than our sun."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.