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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Nature Isn't Nice

Nature Isn't Nice

Author: Reilly Capps/Friday, April 18, 2014/Categories: Archive Pick of the Week

[Classic Everest image from 1963, with the Everest ridge on the right and Khumbu Ice Fall in the center. (c) Barry Bishop Estate]

There's something called the Naturalistic Fallacy. It's a mistaken way of thinking that regards whatever is "natural" as better than whatever is unnatural, and it's why people eat "organic," are afraid of GMOs and even talk as though humans weren't natural, as if we weren't part of nature. 

But nature is no sentimentalist; it isn't a kind school nurse or a loving grandmother. Nature won't take you in its arms and rock you with a lullaby. Not most of the time, anyway. Nature made sharks, arsenic and tornadoes. And it made it so that most of the Earth -- perhaps 90 percent of it -- is horribly unfriendly to humans -- either water, desert, tundra, glacier, or mountain. Earth is our mother -- but she can be a flat-out bitch. 

Today was the deadliest day in the history of Mount Everest. At least 12 sherpas died in an avalanche. These sherpas ferry gear for paying customers. And the list of the dead is heartbreaking: 

Dorjee Sherpa, Ang Chiring Sherpa, Mingma Sherpa, Ningma Sherpa, Ang Kaji Sherpa, Pasang Karma Sherpa, Lakpa Tenzing Sherpa, Chiring Wankchu Sherpa, Wangele Sherpa, Khem Dorjee Sherpa, Furwa Temba Sherpa, and Aasamn Tamang Sherpa. 

All named Sherpa. All part of a clan of 80,000 whose bodies have adapted to the high alpine environment. 

A couple friends of the Riled Up site spoke to National Geographic about the tragedy. Conrad Anker, a climbing legend, said that the spot where the avalanche happened, the Khumbu, is "probably the most dangerous single place in the climbing world. You can just sit at base camp during the day and watch avalanches roar down right over the climbing route. It scares everyone." It's so dangerous that most Khumbu crossings are done between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., when the ice is frozen and less likely to slide. The accident happened around 6:30 a.m. 

Nat Geo photographer Aaron Huey -- also a friend -- has been shooting the sherpas for the past year. He said most of the sherpas do the job simply for the money, since they can make 30 times as much guiding clients up the mountain as they can farming buckwheat or potatoes, which are some of the few other jobs available in the area. 

As for the danger present in the spot where the avalanche happened, Huey said he wouldn't shoot there if Nat Geo offered him $100,000. "It's too big of a lottery," he said. 

It's something the sherpa clan will always remember, Huey told Nat Geo. 

"Will be spoken of for generations in these communities," he said.  "There's going to be more people saying, 'I do this because I have to, not because I want to.'" 

Mount Everest: raw nature. Purely dangerous. 

I think this kind of thing is important to keep in mind when people say we don't have to worry about climate change, or about polluting our air, or whatever. "The Earth will be fine," they say. "The Earth has been going alone fine for thousands of years." 

Yes, the Earth will be fine. But the Earth proves again and again: it doesn't give a fig about us. 

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