Isn’t it time we gave nature and wildlife status in its own right, and we started to derive our desire for status from contributing and not consumption? This could be achieved by reinventing the historic concept of Magnificence.
Status today is almost entirely linked to consumption of ‘luxury’ goods and services, but this wasn’t always the case. Before luxury consumption became socially acceptable in the late Renaissance it was not perceived a status-gaining, but as vulgar and self-serving. Status was gained from ‘magnificence’, an implied obligation of wealth, leading to the personal financing of ‘public good’ endevaours for a city or nation, such as building libraries or cathedrals. Initially, the gratuitous luxury consumption of the newly rich merchants was rejected as a vice. But public perception of luxury changed and today we nearly universally aspire to and worship luxury consumption and magnificence has been all but forgotten.
While the world doesn’t need more grand buildings, the natural world does need help and resources to be rehabilitated. But we would be naive to want this new form of magnificence to be solely based on empathy or compassion. Anything based solely on compassion with nature cannot be broadly accepted as yet, we are still in the process of increasing our distance from nature through urbanization.
Many commentators today say the focus of this decade is saving the planet. The world desperately needs trailblazers who showcase that contributing to nature is a better way of gaining status and significance than consuming it. These trailblazers will be remembered in the same way as Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall – the women who save the birds by taking a stance against the plume boom and murderous millinery – ensuring that species including humming birds didn’t go extinct because of the profit focused actions of industry.