Original Sin and the Environmental Crisis

Before you wonder, this is not going to be a religious article – I’m using the term Original Sin to describe a phenomenon I believe is keeping us from fully integrating ourselves into the living world. Since there is a parallel to the idea of Original Sin and what I will be describing here, I found it made sense to use the term, especially since we can’t deny that Christian philosophy has influenced and shaped the western world to a large degree.

I’ve written about this phenomenon before here, but when I did I realized it warranted an entire post on its own to expound: Ingrained in our language and our thought patterns we have a notion of something like “Original Sin”, which hinders us at finding harmonious ways to be with the non-human, rest of the world. Human nature that is, is initially bad.
Even if we are not Christian or not religious it exists as a kind of subtle and hidden story we tell ourselves. This is true not only for English speakers but is probably present in most latin-based languages and germanic based languages – I only know a few of each, so I’m not sure. Whether it exists in other languages or not, perhaps some Russian, Japanese and Chinese speakers for example could tell us.

Let’s elaborate a bit so that we are all on the same page with what this means, and don’t worry, -again- this is not going to be a discussion about religion, but I will explain the term: In the Judeo-Christian Bible (Old testament) the term “original sin” refers to the sin, for which Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise, that is now passed down from them to all of their progeny. Regardless of what their sin was, the concept is that all humans since Adam and Eve’s exile from Eden are born impure and not fit to be in paradise, because of something their original ancestors did. So there is something hereditary, or innately wrong with them.

The term original sin and the concept as such is very fitting to the symptom we find ourselves with at the moment: Humans do believe that they are somehow impure by nature, by their very makeup, and that thus they are unfit to live in harmony with their surroundings. We commonly describe our own species as a type of disease, a cancer of the planet and generally create human vs. nature scenarios, as if we were enemies. And it is talked about as if there were no real remedy, it is simply how we evolved…

But even subtler than that in most of our languages – as I’ve mentioned before – when we describe nature in its purest and most beautiful form, it almost always carries the word or concept “untouched” with it in some way or another. This is true for German (unberührte Natur / intakte Natur), Spanish (intacto (- tacto = touch)) and English at least. Untouched by us filthy humans, that is.
It’s incredibly hard for us to imagine a landscape that we could marvel at, where human influence has added to nature, rather than subtracted from it. We don’t seem capable of touching anything without destroying… at least that’s what this phrasing implies.

I hope by now the reader is coming to realize how incredibly harmful this way of thinking is! The environmental concerns of our age are growing – and every day we are bombarded with more stories of how true this concept is: humans have polluted rivers and oceans, brought countless species to extinction, deforested continents, made the air unbreathable in certain areas, depleted soils, tortured animals etc. etc. But where are we to go from there? From what it seems the most sensible way to solve the problem would be to quarantine the human race so that it could no longer damage the rest of the world. But realistically that’s not a solution. We cannot build a bubble around humanity, because the nature we are in all appearances damaging is our nurturing life-support system, so we need to be connected to it.

More depressing solutions come to mind, like – humans should go extinct, then the rest of the world would flourish… While this may be true to some degree, the unique human perspective and our ability to appreciate, love, and witness reality in the way we do – including the highest potentials of reaching enlightened sage-hood – would be lost, and this would be a tragedy. However, it might still come to that…

So let’s go back… If we can’t extract humans from nature, then the only way to move forwards is to re-integrate ourselves into it, in such a way that we promote its thriving for the sake of our own. But if we remain with a mindset that says we are a disease and that our touch inevitably destroys, there is no way we can ever achieve that. We are resigned to damage and destroy wherever we set foot.

How could we come up with creative solutions in which we build shelter for our kind but that simultaneously supports an abundant eco-system, if by design we are nature’s enemies (and nature is ours)? How could we find ways to evolve technologically without creating waste, without depleting resources, if we can only envision ourselves as the great ever-hungry cancer of the planet? By adopting this mindset we are justifying and excusing all the damage we are doing. We remove ourselves from responsibility, because: It’s simply human nature, right?


Human nature is not tainted or diseased. Any animal, when living out of balance with its environment (e.g. in overpopulation or without the right symbiotic relationships) wreaks havoc. On coral reefs the crown of thorns starfish became a huge problem when its natural predators were removed. In kelp forests the sea urchin became a similar villain for the same reason. Even deer can become destructive without population control… The varoa mite is still a huge problem for the western honey bee, while the eastern honey bee lives in a regulated balance with this parasite. What in one condition causes devastation, in another can live in harmony adding to a flourishing system.

The same is true for humans.

But we have to keep ourselves in check and find a way to re-create that balance we’ve lost, or perhaps better, create a new, never before present balance with what exists in the world now. The first step is accepting that it’s possible. Harmony is possible. Humans can add to a landscape, can assist in the thriving of the eco-systems around them and can become one with nature. After that it’s time to get creative and get active. I suggest you join the #planfortheplanet campaign to get started and then let it grow from there. We can be the solution! But we need some creativity, some hope and a good dose of re-modeling our mindset.

Now before people start throwing the retro-romanticism stones, I’m not suggesting living in tipis or caves and working with stone tools. While that might have been sustainable back when there were only 10.000 humans alive, we probably wouldn’t fare so well now with 8 billion. I doubt we’d have enough caves… Clearly overpopulation is a big issue that also needs tackling, but the general idea I’m trying to promote in any case is not to move back into a state we were in before, because that is completely against all patterns we see in nature, and so has a high likelihood of failing utterly and completely. The future should be a result of the actual conditions we are starting out with – which in all likelihood have never been around before just like this – and the immobile Truth or Nature out of which all things arise.

So perhaps we can make a more healthy version of the economy of scale, a more healthy version of technological advance, a more healthy version of community living/cities/homes, a more sustainable version of global transport and travel – or perhaps some of those things have to disappear. Or change their face entirely. The truth is, we don’t know yet. But we have to start with believing that we are not doomed to kill, destroy, deplete and devastate the planet, just due to our “nature”.

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