Clinging to the little girl, the woman slogged through the freezing drizzle heading for the mouth of the cave; hoping the fire inside had not completely gone out. Seeing the red glow of embers she gently put the child down and covered her with recently cut strips of animal fur. The little girl coughed, wheezed and struggled to breathe. Carefully the woman placed a few dry twigs on the embers and watched as they ignited into flame. Painstakingly, using larger sticks and branches that had been gathered that morning, she worked the fire into a full blaze.

The hunt that day had been disastrous. The child’s father and uncle had been killed and now the woman and the little girl were alone. Restlessly, the child moaned and coughed as the woman warmed herself at the fire. As she shivered, the woman sensed that the smoke of the fire was adding to the little girl’s breathing problems. But without the fire the dank cave would become too cold to endure. All that could be hoped for was that they’d somehow survive the night.

Millions are saddled with a false premise about the natural world. This premise has become the lens through which they view themselves and all mankind. It is the misperception that the Earth was a small blue and green paradise until humankind came along and began spoiling it.

The truth is that the Earth has always been a place of breathtaking beauty, kaleidoscopic variety, nearly infinite dangers and cruel hard realities. In the natural world a sip of sparking clear surface water can cause any number of bacteria-caused deadly diseases and a scratch from a thorn-bush can lead to life-threatening infection. The Earth abounded with hazards for all living things long before humans started clawing their way toward the establishment of civilizations.

Volcanic activity spews poisonous toxins into the atmosphere. Glacial ages, lasting hundreds of thousands of years, repeatedly destroy huge forested areas of the planet, such as those of North America and Eurasia. Each time this happens, countless trees, other plants and animals that previously thrived in these vast regions disappear and die beneath the mile-thick ice and snow cover.

The Sahara Desert, a wasteland of shifting sand as large as the United States, was a product of natural forces. Mankind in all of its follies, its chaos and misadventures has never, and probably could never, match the destruction to which nature herself subjects this planet and all that inhabit it.

Yet, the false pretense persists, fed and nurtured by a superficial dogma and emotion-driven popular culture. Changes to the planet resulting from human endeavors have come to be considered artificial, alien and illegitimate. It seems to be forgotten that humans are as much a part of nature as anything else.

A beaver builds a dam causing a stream to back-up and form a lake; it is natural. A few trees topple blocking the stream and forming a lake: it is natural. But if the same lake was formed through the actions of a human, it is somehow deemed unnatural.

The brainwashing started decades ago. Children watched the nature specials about species of all sorts battling to survive in delicately-balanced environments. Again and again, mankind was portrayed as the villain, bringing about changes that endangered the creatures. What they were not taught was that species becoming extinct because they cannot adapt to changing environments (often brought about by other species) is one of the natural world’s processes. Also not taught was that more than 90 percent of species that have inhabited this planet have gone extinct, with less than 1 percent of those extinctions occurring after humans came on the scene.

In our modern society most people know next to nothing about how the things they rely upon reach their fingertips. The complexities behind clean water flowing from their faucets, electricity lighting their rooms, their car engine starting when the key is turned are mysteries to all except those who specialize in the specific fields involved.

This condition, under which people receive services, goods and benefits without understanding how it all comes about, ripens them for manipulation. There is a general disconnect from how the real world functions and from how those functions are utilized for the common good, not only of mankind but often for other species as well. It is this disconnect that predisposes so many to accept the false premise that human activity is a scourge upon the Earth. And those most protected from the dangers and ravages of the natural world are the ones most easily misled.

Classical environmentalism is about humans being good stewards of the Earth’s natural resources. Unfortunately this has been replaced by a religious movement masquerading as science-centered environmental activism. The core values of this movement are based on a mythical characterization of the natural world as a sort of Eden. Mankind’s harnessing of the planet’s natural resources is viewed as the original sin. Redemption is possible only if the sin is confessed and the sinner becomes committed to restoring the Earth to its natural condition.

Behind this edifice of ecological morality cynical interests stoke the evangelical fervor for their own political and financial purposes. Our best defense comes from not only understanding the nature of the Earth but also from understanding the nature of mankind.

Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Capitol Confidential, an online newsletter associated with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (MCPP). MCPP provides policy analysis. The political analysis represented in this column does not necessarily reflect the views of the Mackinac Center.