We must not allude to one sole reason to emphasize the need of meeting the environmental challenge. Let us also trust our senses, those very elements of our being, which make us see the ravages caused by the concrete structures and hear the silence of a spring without the presence of a single bird.
For each and every one of us, the link with nature is first and foremost a wide range of perceptions, sensations and emotions. The primary pathway to sensitive relationships, whether sensory and bodily, mental or emotional, is not evident in the public space and away from our private domains. This emotional aspect of any relationship is often denigrated and considered as an obstacle to reason. Emotions nevertheless play a decisive role in all our actions and enterprises. It won’t be wise to rely on only one reason to counter the environmental challenges and to fight them, especially when that reason does only exacerbate negative emotions caused by environmental degradation: anguish, anger, fear, resentment …
How to accept this paradox of a modern social and political world that reduces the environment to an inanimate and controllable exterior, when we nevertheless feel its animated self so intimately? And how to live in one’s own environment without engaging one’s body, or even without recognizing the sensitivity of any living manifestation? Living beings perceive the world with the help of their specific sensory equipment, and in the light of a variety of sensitive experiences of the world that they obtain. It is this that constitutes the richness of our lives that we share with others.
The sensory world is also a common space where attachments are made and forms of sustainable and happy cohabitation between humans and non-humans are achieved. By rejecting or ignoring it, our societies will become even more disarmed and helpless in the face of environmental degradation. To accumulate knowledge, to deploy treasures of creativity and intelligence, to multiply collective experiences – all these would then appear desperately vain. This helplessness is often experienced as suffering when the new is yet to be born while the old has already been buried under our feet. The very idea of progress is in crisis now, when our ecology is faced with disaster and intimate perceptions of the environmental crisis no longer find expression in the public space.
Have we not been deceiving ourselves with this posture? To put it in another way, would the present environmental changes really escape our sensory perception? Evidently, however, it is through our senses and perceptions that we have access to the changes that happen in the world: we perceive the silence of the spring gradually more empty of birds, concrete landscapes hurt our eyes, our throats are irritated by the sneaky intrusion of fine particles, our skin suffers from heatwaves that continue longer than in the past. It is also because of these sensory experiences that human beings reconnect with other living organisms and discover in them a comforting conviviality. Our sensory capacities are the tools with which we gather the kind of knowledge that keeps us in touch with our environment and helps us to maintain an intimate relationship with it. Whatever we say, our senses make sense.
We believe that the ecological crisis feeds on a crisis of our ability to think sensibly in the domains of science and politics. Our decisively rational discourses and commitments to disembodied facts struggle to produce shared values, to develop common rules of life and, ultimately, to make common commitments. Conversely, a moralizing ethic or esoteric or religious thinking is similarly ineffective. The path taken by our spirits, rational or spiritual, always remains too narrow. It keeps us at a distance from the real world, disconnects us from it and leaves us away from its fullness and the multiplicity of its realities.
How to retrace that link between our body and spirit? It can be done by creating an ecology that arouses desire and brotherhood and by building shared values that, in the field of the environment, motivate individual and political action. This means recognizing the links that we have forgotten to trace between the sensible and the rational, even when we realize that the one nevertheless gives access and intelligibility to the other. The environmental emergency no longer permits us to neglect it any more. It is time, we believe, that we should bounce back and build together our future by engaging in the weaving of the multiple links between our reason and our senses, between the mind and the body, or between the sciences and the arts. It is time, in short, to rediscover the plurality of languages and the recognition of sensitive singularities, rich in impulses and orientations, yet silent or ignored. Protecting the environment also means protecting the sensitive part of our world, starting with ours. A fertile ecology can only be a sensitive ecology.