Saving our natural cathedrals

Updated: Mar 2

By Naomi Grewan and Andrea Green-Thompson


The Notre Dame Cathedral before the fire. Sourced from Pixabay

A controversial dialogue arose when the Notre Dame cathedral burned down. Many were eager to assist in the donations to rebuild it, while others expressed a concern for the many natural cathedrals that we are losing every day. “Save the world like Notre Dame,” says teenage, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, in an appeal to treat the world as we have the Notre Dame, with care and protectiveness. Those in nature are just as precious as the man-made Notre Dame. Activate is introducing a new series that aims to inform people about the natural cathedrals that are facing risks on a daily basis.

Environmental activist (and founder of 350.org) Bill McKibben mentioned that the loss of the cathedral reminded him of his experience of climate change while diving along the Great Barrier Reef. He tweeted that “beauty and meaning… [should not] be taken for granted”. A meteorologist, known for his comments on global warming, responded to the tweet saying that “the profound sense of permanent loss is heartbreaking.” If we continue to ignore the pressing effects of global warming and climate change, we will lose more than buildings.

More emotive responses came from those like alias PK Read, who challenges the fact that the reconstruction of the cathedral had billions of donations within a day, while the natural world continues down the path of extinction and destruction with much less financial aid. Although it is understandable that people want the cathedral to be repaired, we also need to take responsibility for the preservation of our planet. We have plenty of natural cathedrals that are at risk of collapse.

In nature, there are wonders found in animals, in plants, in the ocean. These are cathedrals in that they are sacred, life changing structures that need our protection the same way the Notre Dame does.

There is a garbage patch in the ocean the size of France, the global wildlife population has shrunk by 60%, polar bears are eating their young and three billion people are living in poverty. Many activists feel that the collapse of natural cathedrals should be treated with the same urgency that the collapse of the Notre Dame was.

Notre Dame collapsed and many rushed to its aid, but our world is collapsing around us and we don’t even flinch. We are facing the sixth mass extinction, with extinction rates 1000 - 10 000 times faster than normal, we are losing an average of 2000 species a year. Disaster has become a trend that, as human beings, we are unknowingly promoting. A cathedral is commonly seen as a place of divinity, a place to celebrate life and to accept death. Oceans and rainforests are not much different, but with deforestation, loss of insects, loss of wildlife, acidification of the ocean and air pollution we are losing natural cathedrals every day.

This series will be highlighting those natural phenomena - our natural cathedrals - that need our attention, lest we lose them. Making a change for our planet is still possible, but with the deadline for irreversible climate change quickly approaching, in the words of Greta Thunberg, this is going to take ‘cathedral thinking.’

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